Tag Archives: Bruce wood

Falling Up: Preview of Bruce Wood Dance’s RISE performance

 

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Bruce Wood Dance in Joy Aktins Bollinger’s Hillside. Photo: Sharen Bradford/The Dancing Image

Bruce Wood Dance prepares for the physically taxing elements in Joy Atkins Bollinger’s Hillside, part of the company’s RISE performance this weekend.

 

Dallas — Against what will be a backlit stage, Kimi Nikaidoh slowly walks across the space in Bruce Wood Dance’s (BWD) main studio with a pensive expression on her face. Her left arm habitually reaches out to brush across the other dancers’ feet, which are swaying haphazardly as the dancers lay prone on a sloping 32-foot-long 5-foot-wide replica of a hillside made of dense Styrofoam and reinforced with half inch plywood. As Nikaidoh moves further downstage, the dancers start a series of quick lower body exercises, including flex and pointed toes, turned out feet and crisscrossing legs, which they perform in tandem as well as off time. Even without the lighting this image is striking thanks to the dancers’ simplistic movements, which stir up a wealth of emotion, and are also recurring themes in choreographer Joy Atkins Bollinger’s new work, Hillside, for the BWD’s RISE performance this weekend.

Bollinger began her dance training at the age of 7 at the Fort Worth School of Ballet with Victoria Fedine and Paul Mejia. During her time there she performed in productions of The Nutcracker and Cinderella with the Fort Worth Ballet Company. She eventually was invited to the Cedar Island Summer Intensive for two consecutive years where she lived and studied with Suzanne Farrell, who was one of George Balanchine’s muses at the New York City Ballet during the 1960s and ’70s. After graduating from Texas Christian University with a B.F.A. in ballet, Bollinger joined the Bruce Wood Dance Company (BWDC) in 2002. She worked with BWDC for four years while also dancing as a guest artist for Irving Ballet, Metropolitan Classical Ballet and Madison Ballet. Today, Bollinger is an artistic associate with Dallas-based Bruce Wood Dance where she is restaging Wood’s works and starting to make some of her own, including Carved In Stone, which was her first full-length dance for BWD and was met with critical acclaim at the company’s SIX performance last year.

Bollinger says the inspiration for Hillside came from an image she kept seeing in her head of just a slope.

“I just couldn’t shake this image of an abstract hillside that looks like someone just took some marley and squished it from the sides so it just has a ripple in it,” Bollinger says. “And I could also see the dancers starting out with their legs in the air and a figure just walking by and brushing their hand against that.”

To bring this idea to life, Bollinger had her brother who happens to be an architectural engineer help her create an architectural file, which is what the Styrofoam factory referred to when cutting the material. From there the prop had to be assembled and then reinforced so the dancers would be able to run across and perform on it. “So the meat of it is actually a dense foam that weighs between 200 and 300 pounds that we then covered with a thin carpet and marley flooring.”

In addition to the even, smooth look on top, Bollinger also needed the prop to be light enough to slide around the stage, which the dancers do a couple of times throughout the piece. Bollinger explains that the prop begins up stage and will move to mid stage during Nikaidoh’s personal struggle before being shifted to a diagonal, which will represent Nikaidoh’s new perspective on life. She adds, “The first transition will have these flashes of light and as the music changes the downstage will be lit, but the upstage will be dark so all you can see is the front edge of the prop creeping into the light.”

If you had to opportunity to see Carved In Stone, you will be able to see some similarities between that piece and Hillside, most obviously Bollinger’s penchant for large casts and captivating stage design and lighting techniques. She has also taken a page out of Wood’s book with the use of understated movement and silky smooth partnering sections. Like Wood, Bollinger also relies heavily on instinct so that her movement always has a continuous flow to it, but keeps in context with the piece’s narrative and imagery.

This is most clearly seen in the large group section near the end when all 14 dancers run into the space, including three dancers on the hillside, to perform a breathtaking series of body arcs and under-curves, which Bollinger layers with balletic legs and textured arm movements to fast-paced instrumentals. With the use of creative pathways and musical timing, Bollinger avoids the clutter and chaos that generally comes with such large dance works; instead making smart choices that add more dimension and emotional depth to the already deeply empowering work.

And as for why Bollinger decided to work such a large cast she says, “There is just something so satisfying and fulfilling about seeing a lot of bodies on stage. The piece reads stronger with more bodies and the music is so big and powerful, and there are so many layers at the end that I just wanted there to be a moment where everyone can see the big picture.”

Hillside makes it premiere at Bruce Wood Dance’s RISE performance at Moody Performance Hall Nov. 17-18. The program also includes Wood’s Lay Your Burdens Down and The Only Way Through Is Through. This program will be dedicated to two choreographer/instructor Kim Abel; and to former BWDC dancer Doug Hopkings, both of whom passed a way in recent months.

>This preview was originally posted on TheaterJones.com

 

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Homeward Bound: Bruce Wood Dance Project Journey’s Performance Preview

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Bruce Wood Dance Project humanizes the refugee crisis in Albert Drake’s Chasing Home, part of the company’s Journey’s performance this weekend.

Dallas — Emily Drake tenderly cups David Escoto’s face in the palm of her hand before he scoops her up and spins her around in childlike glee while the rest of the dancers quietly celebrate in the background. As the duet progresses, the two twist, duck and arc around one another while always maintaining their connection through physical touches and eye contact. This marriage ceremony is just one of many poignant moments viewers get to witness in Albert Drake’s new work Chasing Home, which depicts the day-to-day activities of those currently living in refugee camps as they seek to reclaim their identities. The work features an original score by Joseph Thalken, which will performed live by the Dallas Chamber Symphony at Bruce Wood Dance Project’s (BWDP) Journeys performance June 16-17 at Moody Performance Hall, formerly Dallas City Performance Hall. The program also includes Bruce Wood’s Schmetterling (2004) and Zero Hour (1999).

Out of the full 20-minute piece, it’s the duet with Emily Drake and Escoto where we really get to see who Albert Drake, Emily’s husband, is becoming as a choreographer. Yes, Wood’s aesthetic is visible in the dancers’ swooping arm and leg movements and nuanced gesturing, but there is a vulnerability and sensuality in the couple’s partnering that is uniquely Albert Drake. “It is not sexual at all,” Albert Drake says. “It’s sensual in that it’s more about seeing, touching, hearing and feeling. It was about finding those intimate connections between the dancers.” Wood’s influences can also be found in the couple’s silky smooth transitions and momentum-driven partnering and floor work, whereas the dynamic bodying shaping and contrary movement phrases showcased in the dancer’s individual moments cater more to Albert Drake’s artistic sensibilities.

When asked about his evolving movement tastes Albert Drake says, “There are definitely a lot of influences from Bruce in my work just because I adore and respect him. I have also found a lot of connection to his work from my concert training at Southern Methodist University’s Meadows School of the Arts.” Before attending SMU in the fall of 2008 Albert Drake says his knowledge of concert dance was limited. It wasn’t until he took Graham technique with Professor Myra Woodruff that he fell in love with the art form. It was also during this time period that he met Bruce Wood who came to SMU looking for dancers to perform in the first concert of BWDP.

(Woodruff’s teaching methods were recently praised on Dance Teacher magazine’s website by former student Corinna Lee Nicholson. Check it out here.)

“There were a lot of connections between my Graham classes and Bruce’s work, so I never felt as if I was starting over with a new aesthetic,” says Albert Drake about his first year with the BWDP after graduating from SMU in 2012. “And these connections definitely and heavily translated in my first work Whispers. That piece kind of came out of nowhere and so, I definitely played from what I knew.” Since the premiere of Whispers last season, Albert Drake says he has been trying to find more of his own self in the movement. “Dynamic range has always been important to me. Also, suspension, release, contraction, expansion, soft and aggressive. I like playing around with all these elements and I hope this comes across in my work.”

Circling back to the marriage ceremony mentioned earlier, Albert Drake says the idea came from one of the multiple documentaries he has watched pertaining to the refugee crisis. He was particularly touched with a story about a couple that had met, fell in love and gotten married while living in a refugee camp. “I was inspired by the fact that even with everything else that was going on people came together and found items like pieces of fabric and makeshift flowers to adorn the bride and groom in. It’s these moments of hope and of being able to move forward and progress while still living in this situation that is really what this piece comes down to for me.” A wedding isn’t the only communal activity featured in the piece. Albert Drake also brings soccer and the dabke, a Middle Eastern dance, into the fold with movement sequences dedicated to fast, syncopated foot work similar to an Irish jig and rhythmic soccer drills performed by the men.

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Albert Drake (Left) and composer Joseph Thalken (Right). Photo: Brian Guilliaux

After watching Albert Drake and Joseph Thalken converse at the end of rehearsal about the music for the final section it’s clear the two have an amicable working relationship and seem to be on same page in terms of the bigger picture. When I mentioned this to Albert Drake later he chuckled and admitted it has taken a lot of time and mind mapping for them to get to this point. “In our first meeting we wrote a lot of stuff down on paper in terms of content, tune and mood and then we just starting tying all these things together.” He adds, “Joseph and I broke everything into sections with working titles, so there really is no beginning, middle or end to the piece. Instead I created different chapters or vignettes with the hope audiences will focus more on the dancers’ connections than following a narrative.”

<<This preview was originally posted on TheaterJones.com.

 

Loud Whispers

Albert Drake rehearsing Whispers with the BWDP. Photo: Sharen Bradford The Dancing Image..
Albert Drake rehearsing Whispers with the BWDP. Photo: Sharen Bradford The Dancing Image.

Albert Drake makes his choreographic debut with his work Whispers, part of the Bruce Wood Dance Project’s upcoming performance marking the company’s fifth anniversary.

Dallas — After watching Albert Drake rehearse his first piece for the Bruce Wood Dance Project (BWDP) Monday afternoon at the company’s studio in the Design District it struck me that Dallas is now not only a breeding ground for uniquely qualified dancers, but also choreographers. Drake has made a name for himself in the North Texas dance community as a founding member of the Bruce Wood Dance Project as well as for his work outside the company, including teaching at Park Cities Dance and Southern Methodist University where he received his BFA in dance performance from the Meadows School of the Arts.

As a dancer, Drake is known for his explosive movement quality and innate lyricism and it was nice to see these traits represented in his first chorographic endeavor, Whispers, part of BWDP’s 5 Years performance June 19-20 at the Dallas City Performance Hall. The work follows eight dancers, including Drake and BWDP’s Artistic Director Kimi Nikaidoh, as they search for the meaning of happiness. Starting with an R&B vibe and then shifting into a fast-paced piano phrase, the 20-minute piece is broken up into various duets, trios and group sections depicting the various relationships among the dancers.

“I wanted to play with relationships that weren’t necessarily just about love,” Drake says. “There is a duet toward the end of the third section that has more of a protective quality to it and has this feeling of you and me against the world. And there are other duets and trios that more about trust and support.”

The blind support Drake talks about allows the couple to transfer their weight back and forth without qualm as they glide across the floor. Their momentum never stops even as the female slides into a split and is pulled through her partner’s legs into a steadfast fourth position relevé. The trios are dotted with dynamic leaps, wicked fast turns and buoyant floor work. A composed backward walking phrase is used multiple times, but the dancers’ changing directions keep viewers on their toes.

“I don’t like predictability,” Drake says, as he explains his penchant for the unexpected. This also makes for some exciting transition changes, such as when the dancers sprint out of the wings or get picked up one by one as a dancer runs by. And in one exuberant section all the dancers dash across the stage leaving a lone dancer to execute a controlled headstand into a series of one-footed balances performed in silence. “Creating transitions is difficult because they have to flow and take the audience on a journey without taking them in and out. As a choreographer you have to find a way to keep the audience involved and keep the whole thing circular.”

Kimi in Whispers, part of the BWDP's Five Years performance. Photo: Sharen Bradford The Dancing Image.
Kimi Nikaidoh in Whispers, part of the BWDP’s Five Years performance. Photo: Sharen Bradford The Dancing Image.

The cast is a mix of company veterans including Harry Feril and Nikaidoh and newcomers such as Eric Coudron and David Escoto. While the group danced seamlessly together Drake says it did take some time for everyone to adjust to the creative process. “The first week it was just about making sure everyone was present because, for some of the newer dancers, they haven’t gotten a lot of chances to work in the creative process. A lot of dancers get drawn into a repertory company where you learn old works over and over. In the creation process you have to be patient, moldable and willing to let go.” Drake admits that was a struggle, but once everyone got into it he says they were able to absorb the movement without prejudice and some good stuff came out of it.

It’s easy to spot Wood’s influences in Drake’s choreography. After all, Drake spent more than half his career training with the notable North Texas choreographer who passed away suddenly last year. “I adopted him early on as the mentor I wanted to be around and learn from. His previous dancers adored the man and followed him religiously and I see why. So, he invested in me and I invested in him and it was a great relationship.”

Wood’s quirky foot work, deliberate gesturing and emotional pull are seen throughout Drake’s piece, but most poignantly in the opening section where the four females each perform a gestural phrase of movement that slowly builds in intensity.

“His principles are a part of me so it wasn’t challenging to stay within his realm of movement. The hard part was moving away from it and standing out and not necessary being a replica of him. Now, I didn’t try to stray away from them, but I did want to take his principles and use them in a different context.” Wood also had the unique ability of connecting with audiences on a deeply emotional level, something Drake hopes to accomplish with Whispers. “I don’t want the physicality or the prettiness of the piece to determine how people feel. My main purpose of this piece is to keep people emotionally involved.”

The concert will also feature the Dallas premieres of Wood’s Requiem and Polyester Dreams.

This feature was originally posted on TheaterJones.com.

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.

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.