Tag Archives: Bruce Wood Dance Project

More to Come

Bruce Wood's fan favorite LOVETT. Photo: Sharen Bradford/The Dancing Image.
Bruce Wood’s fan favorite LOVETT. Photo: Sharen Bradford/The Dancing Image.

The Bruce Wood Dance Project’s newly appointed Artistic Director Kimi Nikaidoh talks about preserving Wood’s legacy and the company’s performance of Lovett + MORE this weekend in Dallas.

Dallas — Since the unexpected passing of choreographer Bruce Wood in May of this year the North Texas dance community has been wondering about the status of the Bruce Wood Dance Project (BWDP), which Wood reinvigorated in 2011 at the urging of arts patron Gayle Halperin. The Fort Worth native started his second company four years after he disbanded his first, Bruce Wood Dance Company, due to financial issues. Since returning to the dance scene three years ago Wood has created six critically acclaimed and original works, including Happy Feet(2011), I’m My Brother’s Keeper (2012) and Love, B (2014). Wood’s chorography is most recognized for its emotional undercurrents, rich imagery and wide range of subject matters.

“Working with Bruce really was magic,” says veteran Bruce Wood dancer Kimi Nikaidoh. “It’s so rare for a dancer to find a choreographer who perfectly fits them and that’s what Bruce was to me. I was never disappointed by what he produced.”

BWDP followers will be thrilled to know that the BWDP will continue to operate and perform for the foreseeable future under the artistic direction of Nikaidoh. “After the June performance Gayle took me to coffee and asked if I would be willing to step in as acting artistic director. I really didn’t have to think about it. Bruce was a close friend and I will always want to honor his legacy and cherish his memory and his work was worth reorganizing my life to come back and help out.”

Nikaidoh was fortunate enough to work with Wood during the early years of the Bruce Wood Dance Company before moving to New York to have ankle surgery and to continue her dance training. She was working with Dwight Rhoden and Complexions Contemporary Ballet when Wood asked her to join the Bruce Wood Dance Project in Dallas. “He told me that he was starting a project and he needed me to dance. I was going through a tough time just then and being able to return home and dance for Bruce was a truly healing experience for me.”BWDP_Bruce profile-2

In addition to his dancers Wood also had a hand in shaping the dance culture in North Texas. “He made it possible for talented dancers, production people and costume designers who needed and wanted to be here in North Texas to stay here. There were so many people in the Bruce Wood Dance Company who could have danced elsewhere, but who wanted to stay in the region due to family ties and because of how unusually good Bruce’s work was.” Nikaidoh adds that this is just one piece of Wood’s legacy that the company would like to continue offering to the community. “Per Bruce’s request we are in the process of archiving his work. We haven’t come up with a total yet, but there are certainly more than 80 masterpiece ballets and that is plenty to offer to dancers and audiences.”

The BWDP also wants to foster the growth of up and coming choreographers who prioritize the same things in art and in dance that Wood did. “We really want these groups to not only preserve and produce his ballets, but also continue fostering his line of thinking in new and upcoming artists.” This ties into Nikaidoh’s long-term goals for the company which includes exposing audiences outside the local regions to Wood’s aesthetic. “Ultimately, I would like to see Bruce’s ballets reach a level of exposure through the BWDP that helps directors of other companies around the country see the work and purchase the ballets.” Something that Wood was not interested in doing when he was in charge. “Bruce was not as interested in impressing people as he was in impacting them. And he wasn’t as interested in selling himself as a lot of other choreographers are. So, with the support of the company, board and his family I would like to work on getting these ballet’s sent out to people who will do them well and just so that more people can see his choreography.”

North Texans will get a chance to experience his choreography this weekend, Sept. 13-14, with the Bruce Wood Dance Project’s presentation of Lovett + MORE at the Dallas City Performance Hall. The program includes Being(1998); fan favorite Lovett (2000), set to Lyle Lovett music; and Piazzolla de Prisa (2001) which will be accompanied by the Dallas Chamber Symphony.

This feature was originally posted on TheaterJones.com.


Dallas DanceFest Profile: Indique Dance Company

Indique Dance Company. Photo: Courtesy
Indique Dance Company. Photo: Courtesy

Indique Dance Company co-founder Sarita Venkatraman talks about the city’s growing Indian dance community and partaking in the reinvigorated Dallas DanceFest this weekend.

Dallas — From far away the Dallas dancescape appears to consist mostly of ballet and modern dance companies, but if you look closer there are also several cultural dance groups pushing their way to the forefront, including classical Indian dance group Indique Dance Company. Formed in 2008 by Sarita Venkatraman, Shalini Varghese, Latha Shrivasta, Anu Sury, Kruti Patel, Bhuvana Venkatraman and Shilpi Mehta, Indique Dance Company fuses Indian classical, folk and modern dance styles with contemporary themes to create an enjoyable and enlightening cultural experience.

And through its collaboration with the Indian Cultural Heritage Foundation (ICHF), the company has had the chance to perform in some of the most popular venues in the Dallas Arts Districts, including Klyde Warren Park, the Crow Collection of Asian Art and Dallas City Performance Hall. “We are so thankful for all the opportunities Dallas has provided for Indique,” Venkatraman says. “Over the last six years we have been welcomed by both Indian and non-Indian audiences which has just been incredible.”

For Venkatraman dance has always been a calling. “Growing up in India my Dad was really into Indian classical music so I was exposed to the arts at a very young age. I joined a dance school in Mumbai at the age of 10 and have been dancing ever since.” Under the tutelage of Guru Shri Mani, Venkatraman began her Bharatanatyam dance training and after a couple of years moved on to learn Kathak from Smt. Guru Asha Joglekar. “In Sanskrit, guru means teacher and becoming a teacher is more of a calling than a profession. A teacher guides a student towards a margam or path. Some students choose to perform an Arangetram, also known as ascending the stage, which should not be considered a graduation performance but rather a beginning.”

Even moving to Dallas in 1995 to work on her doctorate in Physics at the University of Texas at Dallas couldn’t deter Venkatraman from continuing her Bharatanatyam training. Taking a friend’s suggestion Venkatraman went to take class at Arathi School of Dance where she met Guru Smt. Revathi Satyu. “My Guru Revathi Satyu is an amazing individual. As a guru she has taught me to love and appreciate the art not just as a student but also as a teacher. She is extremely patient, always smiling and most importantly always willing to share the art wholeheartedly.” Venkatraman has been teaching at Arathi for several years and her students have performed throughout the DFW area.

Venkatraman adds that if it wasn’t for Satyu Dallas audiences would know very little about Indian dance and the Indian culture. “Revathi is a pioneer in bringing the art of Bharatanatyam to Dallas. She started the Arathi School of Dance in Dallas in 1980 and has graduated over a 100 students. She has been responsible for spreading the awareness of Indian classical dance among Indian and non-Indian audiences. Through workshops, presentations and performances she continues to touch more and more people in the DFW metroplex.”

Photo: Courtesy
Photo: Courtesy

Since its conception, Indique Dance Company has presented several productions, including RootsMaa: The Many faces of Motherhood and Jeeva:  Synergy in Nature. The company will present a dance from Jeeva: Synergy in Nature called Thillana at the inaugural Dallas DanceFest happening this weekend at DCPH. The three-day event is being put on by the Dance Council of North Texas. Choreographed by Shalini Varghese and Bhuvana Venkatraman with music by Indian Rock band AGAM, Thillana features quick foot work, complex rhythms and intricate body poses. “Thillana is a classical Indian dance that has no storytelling. It’s a very happy, brisk dance that involves a lot of complex foot work and body movements.”

And while Dallas DanceFest will be the first time for many local dance companies to perform in the two-year-old City Performance Hall, that is not the case for Indique Dance Company who just performed there two weeks ago. “The DCPH is one of our favorite in-door performance spaces. The intimate setting is something we really enjoy. It makes it easier for us to have a conversation with the audience.”

» Indique Dance Company will perform at the Friday night showcase, 8 p.m. Aug. 29, at Dallas City Performance Hall. The other companies performing Friday are: Dallas Ballet Company, Ewert & Company, Rhythmic Souls, Dallas Black Dance Theatre II, Dark Circles Contemporary Dance, Texas Ballet Theater, Southern Methodist University Meadows Dance Ensemble, Dallas Black Dance Theatre.

» Companies performing Saturday are: Chamberlain Performing Arts, Chado Danse, Houston METdance, Avant Chamber Ballet, Booker T. Washington High School for the Performing and Visual Arts Rep I and II companies, Tarrant County College Movers Unlimited, Mejia Ballet International, Bruce Wood Dance Project

» The Dance Council Honors are Sunday at 2 p.m., honoring Nita Braun, Ann Briggs-Cutaia and Joe Cutaia, Buster Cooper, Dylis Croman, Suzie Jary and Beth Wortley, with performances by Ballet Ensemble of Texas, Bruce Wood Dance Project and 2014 Dance Council Scholarship Recipients.

Dream Maker

Ann Williams with DBDT company members. Photo: Robert Hart
Ann Williams with DBDT company members. Photo: Robert Hart

Ann Williams reflects on her time as artistic director of Dallas Black Dance Theatre, the company’s impact on the Dallas community and her plans for the future.

Dallas — Teacher. Mentor. Dream maker. These are only a few of the titles Ann Williams has acquired over the past 37 years as founder/artistic director of Dallas Black Dance Theatre, the oldest, continuously operating professional dance company in Dallas. But after the company’s Spring Celebration Performance at the Winspear Opera House this weekend Williams will hand the reigns over and take on a new title: retiree.

“Next year I am looking forward to completely stepping back and enjoying DBDT from afar,” Williams says. “I will travel some, play bridge and enjoy the company of my friends and relatives.”

The two-evening Spring Celebration includes performances by Anita N. Martinez Ballet Folklorico, Bruce Wood Dance Project, Texas Ballet Theater and Kirven Douthit-Boyd (Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater). Dancers from DBDT will also be performing in new works choreographed Lily Weiss (Booker T. Washington HSPVA) and Christopher Vo (dancer on Season 2 of the NBC show SMASH).

And while Williams will no longer be a part of the day-to-day activities of the organization once she retires, she will remain supportive and continue to seek out new funding opportunities. And the company can still expect to see her at rehearsals, programs, master classes and workshops. “But only on a limited basis and only as a guest/friend.”

As for the task of uncovering DBDT’s next artistic director Williams say the search has been going quite well. “We have 11 applicants from several different cities and states including New York. We have a dedicated committee not just from the Dallas community, but people who are interested in getting the best possible person for DBDT. The committee will choose a finalist very soon.”

The outpouring of love and support Williams has received since making her announcement last May proves DBDT is indeed a Dallas institution. “I do feel honored with all the love and attention that has happened this year from the local community, especially the dance community. It has made me feel special.”

Since starting the company in 1976, Williams has established five performing dance troupes and currently employs 12 administrative staff and 12 dancers on an 11-month contract. DBDT has performed in 14 countries with tours in Peru, South Africa, Uganda, Austria, Japan, Italy and many more. Most notable venues include Lincoln Center in New York City, The Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta and the 2012 London Olympics. DBDT’s repertoire includes works by Alvin Ailey, Ulysses Dove, Talley Beatty, Christopher Huggins, David Parsons and Darryl B. Sneed, to name a few.

Like all dance companies, DBDT has experienced its highs and lows: economic declines, dancers leaving for other cities and housing complications (DBDT’s home is now 2700 Flora St.), but the company has managed to stay afloat thanks to careful planning and realistic goal setting. “DBDT also has a staff and board of directors that are dedicated to keeping the doors of the company open and support our mission of providing artistic excellence. We are supported by many individuals, corporations and foundations. Our audience and patrons have been with us during the highs and lows and we have rewarded them with great choreography and programs.”

When asked if she has any regrets Williams says, “I think I have accomplished the goals that were necessary and achievable. There can always be more, but I am grateful for our home in in the Arts District and the performance space we have with the Wyly Theatre. It would have been super to get that $1 million gift, but I believe that can happen with the next artistic director.”

As for her legacy, Williams would like to be remembered for the services she has provided to many dance students who would not have had the opportunity otherwise. “I believe I have opened doors of opportunity for many dancers, students, parents, organizations in the City of Dallas, the State of Texas and many parts of the nation and around the world. I have given from my heart and soul so that others can fulfill their dreams.”

This feature was originally published on TheaterJones.com.

Preview: Dallas Black Dance Theatre Spring Celebration

Photo: Robert Hart
Photo: Robert Hart

Christopher Vo pushes Dallas Black Dance Theatre mentally in his new work touch (listen), part of the company’s Spring Celebration, honoring the legacy of Ann Williams.

Dallas – “Remember guys, calm, easy and mindful,” says choreographer Christopher Vo to the members of Dallas Black Dance Theatre as they prepare to run through his new work, touch (listen), last Friday afternoon. In this piece Vo challenges the dancers to be more impulsive and alert in their movement choices.

“I really wanted to create this sense of community,” Vo says. “The dancers are good at taking movement in and executing it, but they needed some help when it came to running and walking together. This was my gift to them.”

A Dallas native, Vo attended Booker T. Washington High School for the Performing and Visual Arts before being accepted to the Juilliard School in New York. From  2008 to 2011 Vo toured and taught master classes across the country with the Lar Lubovitch Dance Company. He was also a principal dancer in Twyla Tharp’s Come Fly Awaydance musical and was a featured dancer throughout Season 2 of the NBC show SMASH. In 2013 Vo performed in the world premiere of the Bruce Wood Dance Project’s My Brother’s Keeper and also headlined Dance Planet 17, a free dance event the Dance Council of North Texas puts on every year.

Before heading into rehearsals Vo sent an e-mail to the dancers asking them what kind of piece they were interested in doing. “Half of them wanted to dance to an Ella Fitzgerald or Stevie Wonder song while the other half wanted something more instrumental. I decided to challenge them with a more classical piece of music.”

touch (listen) begins with six couples lounging stoically on the ground. At the start of the music they slowly inch backwards across the floor. One by one the dancers stand and begin running. As the violin swells and descends the dancers spontaneously break into pairs, trios and quartets creating visually pleasing lines and rotating formations as they go.

Vo is an impulsive mover. He doesn’t create movement ahead of time. Instead he prefers the dancers to discover what works for them in that moment. “I don’t want the movement to feel forced. I like when it happens organically.”

Photo: Robert Hart
Photo: Robert Hart

Vo adds that the choreography for touch (listen) was really a collaborative effort between him and the dancers. “I see myself more as the architect and the dancers as the lumber and the screws of the dance.”

While finishing the dance Vo asked the dancers several times to just go with the flow rather than give them specific pathways. “In this section I want you to be less creative here (Vo points to his head) and just go with the momentum.” But he still expects the dancers to be mindful of where everyone is spatially. This is especially crucial when there are two groups on stage rotating clockwise with the purpose of joining together in one straight line at the end. Viewers will certainly notice if one group’s timing is off.

Vo’s teaching style is firm yet encouraging, a combination the dancers respond well to. “I don’t want to discourage them. I want to motivate them to keep pushing for their best each time.” Vo is also a strong believer in repetition. He will run the same few phrases of movement at least five times, tweaking something each time. “I like repetition because I like to exhaust all the options in order to find the correct movement.”

Dallas Black Dance Theatre’s Spring Celebration Performance, which honors the legacy of founder Ann Williams, is May 16-17, 2014 at the Winspear Opera House. In addition to Vo, the program also includes DBDT performing works by Bruce Wood and Lily Weiss (Booker T. Washington HSPVA), and features guest performances by Anita N. Martinez Ballet Folklorico, Bruce Wood Dance Project, Texas Ballet Theater and guest performer Kirven Douthit-Boyd of Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater.

This preview was originally posted on TheaterJones.com.

TACA Announces 2014 Grant Recipients

Bruce Wood Dance Project in Mistletoe Magic. Photo: Brian Guilliaux
Bruce Wood Dance Project in Mistletoe Magic. Photo: Brian Guilliaux

Dallas – At the Wyly Theatre on Monday night, The Arts Community Alliance (TACA) handed out a total of $1.3 million to 46 arts groups, the most money TACA has given to local arts organizations in its history.

Avant Chamber Ballet, Bruce Wood Dance Project, Texas Ballet Theater and Dallas Black Dance Theatre were among the 46 arts groups.

“We are elated to have surpassed our fundraising goal for TACA’s 2014 distribution,” said Nancy Carlson, Chairman of TACA’s Board of Directors in a news release. “Distributing the largest dollar amount in TACA history is a meaningful accomplishment and speaks to the commitment and support of so many individuals, companies and foundations that make it possible.”

TACA’s grants awarded this cycle will help support more than 5,000 performances that approximately 1.2 million people will attend. Ranging from $5,000 to $110,000, TACA grants are being awarded to a varied group of North Texas’ performing arts organizations, from the very large and established to the newly emerging, according to the news release.

This year’s TACA Grant Recipients include:

Avant Chamber Ballet AD Katie Puder. Photo courtesy of ACB.
Avant Chamber Ballet AD Katie Puder. Photo courtesy of ACB.


Arts District Chorale

Avant Chamber Ballet

Dallas Chamber Symphony

One Thirty Productions Matinee Series



Texas Winds Musical Outreach


Dallas Bach Society

Irving Chorale

Teatro Dallas


AT&T Performing Arts Center

Big Thought

Lone Star Circus Arts Center

Lone Star Wind Orchestra

Plano Symphony Orchestra

SMU Meadows School of the Arts

Sammons Center for the Arts

Voices of Change


Cara Mía Theatre Company


Echo Theatre

Turtle Creek Chorale


African American Repertory Theater

Chamber Music International

Orchestra of New Spain


Uptown Players


Second Thought Theatre


Nasher Sculpture Center (for its Soundings music series)


Bruce Wood Dance Project. Photo: Brian Guilliaux
Bruce Wood Dance Project. Photo: Brian Guilliaux

Orpheus Chamber Singers


Bruce Wood Dance Project


Fine Arts Chamber Players


Undermain Theatre


Children’s Chorus of Greater Dallas

Dallas Wind Symphony

Shakespeare Dallas

Theatre Three, Inc.


Junior Players


Kitchen Dog Theater

Lyric Stage

WaterTower Theatre


Texas Ballet Theater's production of The Nutcracker. Photo courtesy of TBT.
Texas Ballet Theater’s production of The Nutcracker. Photo courtesy of TBT.

Greater Dallas Youth Orchestra




Texas Ballet Theater


Dallas Children’s Theater


Dallas Black Dance Theatre


Dallas Symphony Orchestra


The Dallas Opera

Dallas Theater Center

Check out this article on TheaterJones.com about the TACA awards ceremony.

Review: Mistletoe Magic, Bruce Wood Dance Project

Bruce Wood Dance Project. Photo: Brian Guilliaux
Bruce Wood Dance Project. Photo: Brian Guilliaux

Dallas-based modern dance choreographer Bruce Wood casts a spell like only he can.

While nearly every other dance company is offering The Nutcracker as a holiday fundraiser, leave it to Bruce Wood to come up with a sophisticated twist on warming up the Christmas season.

Wood successfully staged a one-night only, cabaret-style performance called Mistletoe Magic on Dec. 14 at the historic Fairmont Hotel in downtown Dallas.

He smartly captured the supper-club vibe, not only by keeping the show to an hour but serving up a candle-lit dinner as well. And he keenly took advantage of Broadway talent that arrived in North Texas, along with dancers from his Bruce Wood Dance Project collaborative.

The show featured six of Wood’s dancers, and Broadway stars Elizabeth Stanley (in the Tony-award winning Company) and Jason Graae (A Grand Night for SingingFalsettosStardustSnoopy! and Do Black Patent Leather Shoes Really Reflect Up?) dancing and singing to holiday tunes.

Authenticity is what comes to mind when watching the dancers alongside Stanley and Graae and a five-piece band on the cozy stage in the hotel’s elegantly appointed Venetian Room. In such a confined space there was nowhere to hide. It was an ideal setting for Wood to reveal what’s currently considered his dream team: Joy Atkins Bollinger, Albert Drake, Harry Feril, Kimi Nikaidoh, Nycole Ray and Christopher Vo.

Bollinger and Nikaidoh both danced with Wood’s previous company. Drake and Feril, both SMU alumni, have performed with Wood for the last three seasons. Ray is a long-time Dallas Black Dance Theater dancer, while Vo, formerly with the Lar Lubovitch Dance Company and Twyla Tharp’s Come Fly With Me, performed in Season 2 of the NBC show SMASH.

Wood has a gift for taking dancers of all shapes, sizes ,and ethnicities and uniting them through movement. He constructs works in such a way where viewers see past these differences. He is a true artist in this sense. A perfect example was the trio the men danced to an orchestrated version of God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen. Dressed in tuxes, shiny black dress shoes and bowler hats, Feril, Drake and Vo entertained with a series of slick hat moves, punctuated hand gestures, and Michael Jackson inspired pelvis thrusts. The dancers’ height differences disappeared as they lifted and caught one another as they glided across the stage.

As Stanley serenaded the group with ballads like The Very Thought of You and My Dear Acquaintance (A Happy New Year), the dancers sat in chairs, swaying and tapping their feet, completely engrossed in the moment.

Photo: Brian Guilliaux
Photo: Brian Guilliaux

Graae kept things light with The Twelve Days After ChristmasHappy Holidays and Let Yourself Go. The dancers accompanied him in a few of the songs including the silly, yet well-staged Let Yourself Go. All six dancers performed a series of wrist flaps, head bobs, shoulder shrugs and hip swivels with a smoothness that is signature Wood. Bollinger, Nikaidoh and Ray showed their sultry side as they skimmed the floor in a number of uninhibited partnering moves with Feril, Drake and Vo. The cannon leg crosses and drunken role play on the chairs at the end was quite clever and memorable.

Wood’s fascination with touch was evident in Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas when, one by one, the dancers touched a shoulder or held hands, creating an unbreakable bond.  As the song’s lead lyrics echoed through the room, the group broke into pairs, the women placing their heads on the men’s shoulders as they slowly strolled back to their seats.

As the Bruce Wood Dance Project enters its fourth season, audiences hope to see more of his genuine and human movement, and more of these technically brilliant dancers.

This review was originally posted on WorldArtsToday.com.


Q&A: Joshua L. Peugh, Dark Circles Contemporary Dance

Joshua Peugh is the co-founder and artistic director of Dark Circles Contemporary Dance. Photo: Sergio Garcia
Joshua Peugh is the co-founder and artistic director of Dark Circles Contemporary Dance. Photo: Sergio Garcia

The choreographer discusses his new work and the U.S. premiere of his company, Dark Circles Contemporary Dance.

Fort Worth – Choreographer Joshua Peugh is looking to bridge the gap between the East and West with his South Korean-based company, Dark Circles Contemporary Dance (DCCD). The company will be making its U.S. debut Sept. 26-28, 2013 at the Hardy and Betty Sanders Theatre at the Fort Worth Community Arts Center.

The program will include Peugh’s new work Jjigae and Korean choreographer Dong Hyoung Kim’s new work Fighting Game, as well as a restaging of Cosmic Sword, a piece created for the Breaking Ground Dance Festival in Tempe, Arizona last winter.

After graduating from Southern Methodist University in 2006, Peugh joined the Universal Ballet Company in South Korea where he performed soloist and feature roles in works by Ohad Naharin and Christopher Wheeldon. Peugh returned to Dallas in 2011 to join the Bruce Wood Dance Project as associate choreographer. Today he is an adjunct professor at SMU as well as the artistic director for DCCD. Since its inception three-and-a-half years ago DCCD has produced 17 award-winning works and performed in five countries.

TheaterJones ask Joshua Peugh about the motivation for starting the U.S. branch of his company, the inspiration behind his new piece Jjigae and what it’s like working in the Dallas arts scene.

TheaterJones: When did you decide it was time to bring Dark Circles Contemporary Dance to the U.S.?

Joshua Peugh: It was always the plan to have a U.S. branch of the company, but I didn’t expect it to happen so soon. After leaving the Bruce Wood Dance Project five months ago things just kind of fell into place. A lot of doors opened and here we are a few days before the company’s premiere in the States. We have this whole different group of dancers and two brand new works so it is really exciting.

Why did you choose North Texas for your company’s debut?

I didn’t think our first appearance would happen in Dallas, but the more time I’ve spent here and invested in the dance community it just felt right. It’s a really exciting time to be working in Dallas what with all the new spaces downtown and the dance community in general. I am also connected to Booker T. Washington, Southern Methodist University and the Dance Council [of North Texas] so it just feels natural to have the performance here. You know, if Bruce hadn’t seen my work I wouldn’t have come over here in the first place. But because people had seen my work in his concert last summer everyone is really curious about what it is I am doing now. I am very excited and very thankful for people being so curious about what we do.

How did you select your dancers?

Well, last winter Jennifer Mabus and I created a new work for the Breaking Ground Dance Festival in Tempe, Arizona. We started working on it and decided it needed a third dancer, Jesse Castaneda. He is a beautiful folklórico dancer, but he is also a B-boy. This kid loves to move, has a natural quality and is just really curious. The other dancers are students of mine from SMU and Booker T. So, we have quite a huge spectrum of ages and experiences. They are all very professional in the way they work and they are all passionate about moving. That is ultimately what I am looking for in a dancer. So, to answer your question I hand selected all of these people. These are people who I have worked with or seen in class that made me curious and inspired me. It’s a really special chemistry we have right now which is fortunate. Ultimately, in our 3-to-5-year plan I would like to be able to offer the dancers a full-time contract so we can keep some of that talent here in Dallas. The only way we are going to be able to keep people around is to be able to offer them work that will sustain them.

What was the inspiration for your new work, Jjigae?

 Jjigae depicts Peugh's struggle to asslimate himself between two cultures.
Jjigae depicts Peugh’s struggle to assimilate himself into two cultures. Photo: Sergio Gracia

It’s about me trying to figure out what I am doing back in the States after having lived in Korea for five and a half years. It’s about me trying to assimilate myself into these two cultures. When I came back the press was being really nosy about North Korea so when you said Korea to people their immediate response was ‘Oh, the bad Korea?’ And those people who experienced the war in 1953 have a very different idea of what Korea is and that is not the Korea I spent five and a half years in. It has this beautiful and rich culture that I am really connected to emotionally.

Anyway, we are using traditional Korean folk music mixed with drum line music. So, it’s kind of this interesting balance between the two. I am also trying to connect American culture and idealism with foreign cultures and perceptions. It’s a hugely personal piece for me and it’s not particularly light which is going to surprise some people.

Can you tell me about the other pieces on the program?

Sure! One is the restaging of Cosmic Sword which is the piece that Jennifer Mabus, Jesse Castaneda and I did in Tempe, Arizona. The other piece on the program is Dong Hyoung Kim’s new work called Fighting Game. It’s four girls and a guy and it’s about the relationships we have with ourselves and other people. He’s a really beautiful and curious choreographer. He comes up with really interesting stuff.

Who is your target audience?

I am interested in creating work for a younger audience between the ages of 20 and 34. When we did performances in Korea the audience was mostly young professionals and students. I think part of that is because the kind of work that we are doing is more interesting to a younger crowd. I am hoping by using students who are active in the community we can build a younger base. We are doing our PR almost exclusively on social media and then we go around and put up posters in the trendy parts of town. As a society we want to be connected all the time through Facebook and Twitter, but I’m hoping we can connect people back to their humanity through movement. I think people are excited about that.

 Why did you choose the Hardy and Betty Sanders Theatre for your venue?

I chose a smaller venue on purpose. I’m hoping by working in smaller, more intimate spaces that we can get people feeling more connected to the work. And I think in a smaller space it’s a little easier for the audience to focus on what’s happening.

 What would you like the audience to take away from your performance?

I have never been interested in providing answers. I want people to leave with questions. The beautiful thing about being human is being curious about those answers, but not necessarily needing to have one.

This Q&A was originally posted on TheaterJones.com.

Q&A: SMASH Dancer Chris Vo

imageDancer Chris Vo on headlining Dance Planet 17, dancing on the show Smash and the growing arts scene in Dallas.

Dallas — The remarkably talented dancer, choreographer and fitness instructor Chris Vo returns home to Dallas to headline this year’s Dance Planet 17, April 6-7, 2013, at the Booker T. Washington High School for the Performing and Visual Arts in the Arts District.

Vo is no stranger to Dance Planet, the oldest and largest free dance festival in U.S., according to the Dance Council of North Texas. “Growing up I had been an attendee of Dance Planet since my 4th grade year,” Vo says. “I remember the arts district, Annette Strauss Square, coming alive with dancers and supporters of dance.”

Dance Planet 17 offers 30 different kinds of dance and fitness classes from Circus Aerial Silks and Hip-Hop Smash to Flamenco and Folklorico taught by professionals from around the region. The event also includes a performance showcase featuring a wide range of styles presented by local dance studios and performance companies. Vo will be teaching Zumba, musical theater and modern dance as well as participating in a Q&A session over the two-day dance event.

Vo’s resume includes performing with the renowned Lar Lubovitch Dance Company and with the national tour of Twyla Tharp’s Come Fly with Me. Vo recently made the transition from concert to commercial dance landing a role on Season 2 of the NBC hit show SMASH, which premiered in February. Vo was also part of the Bruce Wood Dance Project’s extended version of My Brother’s Keeper this March at the Montgomery Arts Theater in Dallas.

TheaterJones asks Chris Vo about growing up in the Dallas dance scene, his first dance job and what he is most looking forward to at this year’s Dance Planet 17 event.

TheaterJones: How did you get involved with Dance Planet 17?

Chris Vo: Gayle Halperin reached out to me to headline it.

As the headliner of this year’s Dance Planet event what are you most looking forward to?

I’m most looking forward to sharing my passion and enthusiasm for dance. I will be teaching a wide range of classes: Zumba, musical theater and modern dance.

As a Dallas native you grew up attending Dance Planet events. What are some of your fondest memories?

I loved being a part of a greater arts community. We spend so much time in our own studios working day in and day out that we forget there is a dynamic and diverse dance community around us. I don’t use the word community lightly. Everyone was always supportive of one another. It really felt like for one weekend we were reminded of our tribal beginnings, gathering to celebrate life through dance.

How did growing up in the Dallas dance community prepare you for your professional career?

I am a proud graduate of all of the public arts schools in Dallas, including Sidney Lanier, Greiner and Booker T. Washington High School for the Performing and Visual Arts. In addition to being a true product of the Dallas Independent School District’s arts programs, I also had the pleasure and opportunity to take classes all around the Metroplex, including Dallas Ballet Center, City Ballet, Kitty Carter’s Dance Factory, Academy of Dance Arts and Diane Clough West Dance Studio, just to name a few.

Many thanks to the generous studio owners who have opened their doors to me and to my colleagues who allowed me to tagalong for a class or two. The culmination of all the previously mentioned experiences has shaped me into the artist that I am today.

How has the dance scene in Dallas changed since you left?

Well, for starters, Artist’s Square is nothing like it used to be. Who would have thought that in the 10 years that I’ve been gone Dallas would gain multiple state-of-the-art facilities in the heart of downtown! So much of what the Dallas audience gets exposed to is contingent on what TITAS brings to the city, and TITAS always brings the best of the best so that hasn’t changed. It is nice to see that Texas Ballet Theater comes to Dallas to use the Winspear Opera House. It’s a treat that the Bruce Wood Dance Project is working out of Dallas. I think there is a charge and bright energy surrounding the dance scene in Dallas.

Can you tell me about your first job as a professional dancer?

My first job as a professional dancer was through TITAS. I’m forever grateful for the incredible experience. To share the stage with the crème de la crème of the dance world at the Command Performance during my senior year of high school was beyond my wildest dreams. I performed two solos: And Some Look Back by Jessica Lang and Growth by Dwight Rhoden.

Did you find the transition from concert dance to television challenging?

Not particularly, dance is dance. But I did find that working on TV is very stop-and-start. Sometimes those production numbers that last only minutes long can take many many hours to film.

What was the audition process for the television show Smash like?

It was just like any other audition except the best dancers in the Broadway/commercial circuit were there. We learned a combo then they made a cut. Then we did the combo again with our shirts off. Ha! 

What lessons have you learned about dancing for television?

I’ve learned that it requires a lot of patience to be on set. There’s an aspect of instant gratification with live theater that you don’t get with TV work. But I have to say once the finished product airs it is so exciting.

What advice do you have for young aspiring dancers in Dallas?

My advice is to follow your dreams, work hard for the results you want and to keep an open mind when it comes to shaping your career.

This Q&A was originally posted on TheaterJones.com.

Review: Bruce Wood Dance Project

My Brother's Keeper. Photo: Sharen Bradford/The Dancing Image
My Brother’s Keeper. Photo: Sharen Bradford/The Dancing Image

Male Bonding

Bruce Wood creates a new repertory favorite with My Brother’s Keeper

I have a been a fan of choreographer Bruce Wood for a few years now, but I had my doubts about his new work My Brother‘s Keeper which premiered Friday night at the Montgomery Arts Theater in Dallas due to its masculine themes and all-male cast.

I went into the theatre feeling sort of like an outsider and left with a new found respect and understanding for the male psyche.

Wood did a magnificent job describing the complex relationships among men using song, movement and storytelling. Wood set the tone right away with eleven men dressed in suits seating on a long bench. Their faces are hidden in the shadows giving the impression that these men could be anyone we know. It made me think of my brother and father.

As the piece proceeds the men come forward into the light in groups of two’s, three’s and four’s to perform a series of signature Wood movements, including rhythmic hand gestures, concave body positions and inverted feet. Vocalist Gary Lynn Floyd and story teller Jac Alder’s passionate performances only enhanced Wood’s fragmented yet fluid movement tendencies.

Wood found a way to describe the relationships between brothers, friends and lovers that was simple in concept yet layered with emotions and movement choices.  His choreography is always jam-packed with exciting and unexpected floor work and partnering, but it never comes across muddled. How does he do it?

Albert Drake, Joshua Peugh and Harry Feril. Photo: Brian Guilliaux
Albert Drake, Joshua Peugh and Harry Feril. Photo: Brian Guilliaux

The trio with Dallas Blagg, Albert Drake and Harry Feril had the biggest impact on me. Their partnering was beautiful, but it was the transitions between the lifts that really stood out. Instead of just placing Drake on his feet, Feril would place him on Blagg’s back allowing Drake to slowly slide to the floor. Rarely did the men break contact with each other; a powerful sign of their love and support for one another. It made me think of my relationship with my sister and my husband’s relationship with his three brothers. We all fight with our siblings, parents and lovers, but with this piece Wood reminds us of the strong bonds that tie us all together. Only Bruce Wood could create such a work.

The Bruce Wood Dance Project will be presenting three new works June 21-23, 2013 at the Dallas City Performance Hall. Visit www.brucewoodance.org for more information.