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Preview: Bruce Wood Dance’s All Bruce Performance

Shades of Bruce

Bruce Wood Dance celebrates the many sides of the trailblazer in its fall performance, All Bruce, at Moody Performance Hall this weekend.

Bruce Wood Dance in Local 126. Photo: Sharen Bradford/The Dancing Image

Dallas — It has been four years since his death, but Bruce Wood’s philosophy that “It is about the work” continues to drive Bruce Wood Dance (BWD) forward, which is apparent by the title of the company’s upcoming performance, All Bruce, Nov. 17-18 at Moody Performance Hall. The program features four memorable Wood works, including Echoes of Enchantment (1999), Bolero (2001), Local 126 (2001) and The Edge of My Life So Far (2010), featuring Nycole Ray of Dallas Black Dance Theatre.

The performance also marks a first for Joy Atkins Bollinger in her new role as BWD’s artistic director and is really a reunion of sorts for those of us who were in the audience at the Montgomery Arts Center for Wood’s triumphant return to the Dallas dance scene in June 2011. Viewers were in awe of the talent of company veterans Kimi Nikaidoh, Harry Feril and Albert Drake who would later band together to help keep Wood’s memory and movement aesthetic alive after the choreographers untimely passing in 2014. Today, most of the company veterans have moved on and a new batch of talent is now working to maintain Wood’s legacy.

I got the chance to sit down with Bollinger a couple of weeks ago at the Bruce Wood Dance Gallery and talk to her about how she is adjusting to her new role and how the newer dancers are acclimating to company culture.

“I was a little concerned when I saw how many new company members we have this season,” Bollinger says. “I just knew we had so many changes ahead of us with our infrastructure and our staff and then losing some of our veteran dancers, but I have to say I have been pleasantly surprised by the intelligent, hardworking and earnest nature of these dancers.”

She adds, “We’re to the point now where almost the entire company is working toward this man’s legacy who they have never meet and it’s just their understanding of what was important to him and how that affected others that draws them in.”

The new company members include Lauren Hibbard, Lauren Perry, Chad Vaught, Seth York and apprentice Arden Leone. They will be dancing alongside Adrian Aguirre, Jillyn Bryant, Olivia Rehrman, Gabriel Speiller and Megan Storey. Emily Drake, the most senior company member, will only dance in Bolero for this performance.

So, the responsibility of articulating Wood’s movement really falls on Bollinger’s shoulders. An incredibly daunting task, as anyone who had seen Wood in the studio can tell you. “Bruce had this uncanny way of not speaking,” Bollinger says. “And the feeling in the room or the feeling coming off him was enough for the dancers to understand where he was headed with choreography. And then when you weren’t sure about that from him you could turn to the veteran dancers that had worked with him for many years and ask them for help.”

Watching Bollinger give notes to the dancers after they ran through Local 126 it’s obvious she has a gift for words when it comes to telling the dancers what she needs from then. “A more crisp arrival,” “sharpen your focus” and “brighter energy through the legs” were a few of the corrections Bollinger gave as well as the ever present “have fun.”

But what Bollinger says she spent the most time discussing with the dancers was Wood’s emphasis on the group dynamics within his works. “The one thing I was focused on for this performance was the importance he placed on the group. If you look at Local 126 there is no partnering in the entire thing. Bruce would say he could choreograph to Bach in his sleep pretty easily so he wanted to challenge himself by doing no partnering for this entire piece.”

Bollinger adds, “The dancers needed to understand that you don’t get the lift and fly relationship. They’re going to have a different feeling of their bodies working in unison and as one and in sculpture and line and the architecture of the piece is going to have to create that. That’s been something we talked about a lot for this show because we’re going to need that in every dance, especially in Bolero.”

Before starting Bolero Bollinger says she and Nikaidoh sat down and talked through their memories of the dance and what they remembered Wood expressing so clearly. And through this conversation they were able to reconnect with the feeling and the finer details of the work. “It’s hard because in this day and age, when the second generation perceives something as sensual they automatically think it’s a celebration of sexuality, but it’s not. Bolero is very dark, almost that to the detriment of every person on stage.”

She explains, “At the same time as these women are wielding the power over the men and manipulating each other it’s also building toward a chaos. Everyone is walking in these courtship manners and the women are wearing ball gowns and the men are in tuxes, yet in complete irony the dancing women are in lingerie.”

Bollinger adds, “There’s so many layers here as to what is happening and at the start of this piece Bruce told us, ‘You know, this isn’t the party. This is 3 a.m. and the party has already happened’.”

Come experience Bolero and other Wood works at Bruce Wood Dance’s All Bruce performance at Moody Performance Hall this weekend.

>This preview was originally posted on TheaterJones.com.

 

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Preview: Dallas Black Dance Theatre’s 2018 Director’s Choice Series

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DBDT rehearsing Joy Bollinger’s This Time. Photo: Melissa Young

Dallas Black Dance Theatre explores the fleeting nature of time and memories in Joy Bollinger’s new work, This Time, part of the company’s Director’s Choice Series at the Wyly Theatre.

Dallas — It has been a fall to remember for Joy Bollinger who not only will be presenting her first program as artist director of Bruce Wood Dance (BWD) this month, but also showcasing her first commissioned piece at Dallas Black Dance Theatre’s (DBDT) Director’s Choice Series, Nov. 2-4, at the Dee and Charles Wyly Theatre in the Dallas Arts District. Bollinger’s new work, This Time, will be performed alongside works by Tommie-Waheed Evans, Lily Cabatu Weiss and Elisa Monte and David Brown.

“I have choreographed on BWD. I was asked to choreograph a piece on my alma mater Texas Christian University,” Bollinger says. “But this was the first time an outside professional dance company has asked me to choreography on them and that was just an exciting milestone.”

She adds, “I love being a choreographer and I hope in the future I can continue down that path in whatever way. I am just really thankful for this opportunity to work with DBDT.”

Bollinger was contacted over the summer by DBDT’s newly-appointed artistic director Melissa Young about setting a piece for the company’s Director’s Choice performance at the beginning of November. Young says she was blown away when she saw BWD perform Bollinger’s Carved in Stone in 2016, and began to wonder how her movement language would translate onto DBDT’s dancers.

“Since we are a repertory company, in my opinion our dancers do an amazing job of morphing into every style put before them,” Young says. “We didn’t have any works in our repertoire with Joy’s distinct movement language and overall tone. I knew whatever she chose to create would be a perfect fit. So, by adding This Time into our programming, our audiences will get to know Joy and her beautiful work as we travel across the country as well as get acquainted with another facet of how DBDT dancers move.”

Young adds, “The best part of this collaboration was the ease of how everything came together. From start to finish, I would consider it all Joy.”

Young and Bollinger’s history actually goes back almost 15 years when they danced alongside each other as part of a Bruce Wood Dance Company and DBDT collaboration in 2003. “There’s something about her calm energy that has always drawn me in. I really admired Joy as a person and her artistic abilities. The special care and attention to detail that she puts into her own dancing resonated with me over the years.”

If you have seen Bollinger’s previous works, Carved in Stone and Hillside, then you have probably noticed her penchant for large scale visuals, dynamic groups sections and musically-driven movement phrases. As we sat talking at the Bruce Wood Dance Gallery last Friday Bollinger notes that this piece for DBDT is very different from anything she has done before.

“For this piece I am using a much smaller group, only seven dancers, and since they will be performing in a smaller space I kept the architecture of the dance pretty simple. She jokes, “Plus, I don’t think we have any storage space left [at BWD’s studio] for another one of my props.”

What didn’t change this time around is Bollinger’s need to find music before jumping into the choreography. Bollinger already had a piece of music on her mind going into the process, but due to its length, she had to do a quick pivot and find something else, which she admits was a little challenging. “Finding music is crucial for me because I like to choreograph musically. So when I realized the first idea wasn’t going to work I was like “okay” what do I do now, but I just had to go with it.”

She laughingly adds, “I now realize I have a love affair with Olafur Arnalds because I start searching for music and when I realize I like something guess who it is. So, the three tracks I picked were done in collaboration with someone else and there is the sound of water in the music but also violence and sweeping and piano. You know, music you want to move too.”

This Time was inspired by Bollinger’s relationships with her children and grandmother and how over time these images become fractured and blurry, thus increasing our desire to hang on to these precious memories. To help the dancers find more personal meaning within the work Bollinger says, “I tell them what it means to me and then I say that’s not what it has to mean to you, but I want you to find what in your life connects and resonates with what that means to you.”

The most challenging part of the process for the dancers was learning a new movement vocabulary, Bollinger says. Audiences are very familiar with Bruce Wood’s unique aesthetic which features a strong balletic core so the dancers can effortless execute his off-axis turns, quick changing body positions and pendulum-like arm and leg movements.

“There were definitely a few things in the vocabulary that were new to them and probably countered how they often do things such as running low and in the floor and also the group aesthetic within the work. They are such dynamic performers, and I know every one of them has the capability to be a fantastic soloist, so they now have to keep that but also feel the group.”

You can see Dallas Black Dance Theatre in Joy Bollinger’s This Time at the company’s Director’s Choice Series at the Wyly Theatre this weekend.

>This preview was originally posted on TheaterJones.com.

 

Dallas Black Dance Theatre Announces New Artistic Director and Much More!

melissayoung
Melissa Young is the new artistic director of DBDT. Photo: Brian Guilliaux

Lot’s of great news has been coming out of the Dallas Black Dance Theatre (DBDT) organization the last couple of weeks, including today’s announcement that Melissa Young will be taking over as artistic director.

Young has been with the company for 25 years and has experience in all facets of the organization. We meet while on the board of directors for the Dance Council about 10 years ago and her commencement and passion for dance and DBDT was as strong then as it is now. She is patient. She is kind. But she also knows when to lay down the law. As they say, third times the charm, so I wish Young good luck in new position!

DBDT also announced last week that it has been selected to receive funding through the Communities Connecting Heritage (CCH) exchange program for its new cultural heritage project with Macedonian filmmakers. Only five artistic organizations in the nation where chosen to participate in this cultural exchange program.

Entitled Widening the Lens, DBDT and Association MakeDox from Macedonia will work together with 12 African-American dancers and 12 Macedonian filmmakers to create a 50-minute documentary exploring and celebrating African-American culture through dance and Romani heritages music. DBDT will incorporate aspects of the project into its Spring Celebration Series in addition to holding three free screenings of the film in July.

What a unique experience for these dancers. Not only do they get to travel around the world exploring different dance cultures, but they will also get to see how a dance documentary is put together from start to finish.

bollinger_joy

And right behind this announcement came the news that DBDT has invited Joy Bollinger, the newly appointed Artistic Director of Bruce Wood Dance, to set a piece for the company’s annual Director’s Choice performance coming up in November.

According the media release, Bollinger’s new work, This Time, is a reflection of the fleeting nature of the time in her relationships with her children and grandmother and the constant desire to steal moments and capture memories. If its anything like her previous works then audiences are in for large scale visuals, dynamic group sections and a roller coaster of emotions.

(Photo credit: Brian Guilliaux)

 

 

 

 

Preview: Making Moves, AKA: Ballet

AKA: Ballet offers up a unique experience for both viewers and performers at the Latino Cultural Center tomorrow night.

From left: Carter Alexander, Hailey von Schlehenried, and Albert Drake of aka: Ballet. Photo: AKA: Ballet

Dallas — Hailey von Schlehenried is one of many local choreographers reaping the benefits of the changes that have been made to the Dallas dancescape over the last several years. Von Schlehenried first caught the public’s eye at Avant Chamber Ballet’s 2017 Women’s Choreography Project (WCP) and then again at Dallas DanceFest (DDF) later that summer. She has also recently been asked to set a piece for Wanderlust Dance Project, which marks another first for the blossoming artist.

It was at DDF where von Schlehenried met Carter Alexander (associate artistic director for Chamberlain Performing Arts) who asked if she would be interested in doing a collaboration the following summer. One thing lead to another and von Schlehenried is currently in the final stages of two new works, which will be presented alongside new pieces by Alexander and Albert Drake of Bruce Wood Dance at AKA: Ballet’s premiere performance at the Latino Cultural Center this Friday.

The performance will feature many familiar dancers, including Kaitlyn McDermitt, formerly with Avant Chamber Ballet; Alyssa Harrington, formerly with Dallas Black Dance Theatre; Alizah Wilson, Adrian Aquirre of Bruce Wood Dance; and Riley Moyano, Amanda Fairweather and Alex Danna of Texas Ballet Theater.

“We are so happy to have these dancers and they have been working so tirelessly in preparation for the show,” von Schlehenried says.

For this performance von Schlehenried has created two pieces: a classical pointe number and a more contemporary work. She describes the pointe work as fluid and free, and in contrast the contemporary work is visually darker, which meshes well with its theme about sinning. “I was really inspired by the music for the contemporary piece which is really centered on the idea of sin. The dancers pass around this scarf throughout the dance, which represents this idea of passing off our sins to someone else,” von Schlehenried says. “And the pointe piece is all about letting go and getting the dancers outside their classical boxes so that they appear to be surrendering to a situation.”

Von Schlehenried says her dancers played a big part in the creative process for both pieces. “I really wanted this to be a collaboration so I had the dancers brainstorm with me, which really makes them feel like they have a say and also relaxes the dancers. They all possess this amazing creative energy which helped make the process so much easier.”

Von Schlehenried is especially close with McDermitt who has had a role in almost every work she has put out since 2013. She even goes as far as calling McDermitt her lucky charm. “It just seems that every time I am working on a special project Kaitlyn is always in it. She is such a lovely person and is so into what she is doing, which really makes her a positive force for me and the arts community.”

McDermitt has definitely been paving a way for herself in the Dallas arts scene with gigs, including a couple of seasons with Katie Cooper’s Avant Chamber Ballet, performances at local festivals such as Plano Dance Festival and DDF as well as partaking in local arts events, including Dallas RAW and AKA: Ballet. She also teaches at Royale Ballet Dance Academy in Dallas and is a member of Ballet North Texas. She graduated from Southern Methodist University’s Meadows School of the Arts with a BFA in dance performance in 2012.

You can see McDermitt and the other performers in von Schlehenried’s, still untitled, works this Friday evening at the Latino Cultural Center. Tickets are available at www.ticketweb.com. You can make a donation to the show at www.fracturedatlas.org.

This preview was originally posted on TheaterJones.com.

 

A Perfect Fit: Preview of Bruce Wood Dance’s Harmony Performance

Choreographer Yin Yue brings her unique style to Dallas in Begin Again, part of Bruce Wood Dance’s Harmony performance this weekend.

Yin Yue working with Bruce Wood Dance. Photo: Brian Guilliaux

Dallas — Acclaimed New York-based choreographer Yin Yue is the latest name on the short list of artists who have been invited to commission work for Bruce Wood Dance (BWD) since Kimi Nikaidoh took over the reins of the Dallas-based troupe in 2014. Since then BWD has performed works by international choreographers such as Bryan Arias, Andy Noble, Katarzyna Skarpetowska and Bridget L. Moore as well as pieces by in-house talents like Nikaidoh, Joy Atkins Bollinger and Albert Drake. Yue’s new work, Begin Again, will premiere this weekend at BWD’s Harmony performance at Moody Performance Hall in the Dallas Arts District. The program also includes Wood’s poignant The Day of Small Things (2012) and the crowd pleasing Rhapsody in Blue (1999).

In regards to the program Nikaidoh says, “The title represents the variety of this program, and we have been fortunate with Bruce’s work because there is such variety from a single choreographer. Certainly that range expands when you add another choreographic voice to the program, and Yue’s work is a great fit because it is coming from a different place than Bruce’s.” She adds, “I also want our dancers to continue growing in their diverse abilities.”

Nikaidoh calls Wood’s The Day of Small Things a beautiful example of how he could make a quiet work very powerful. “It’s quiet and understated and yet it’s glorious and majestic at the same time. The inspiration for the piece was that these small interactions and moments between people are really meaningful and important. And we don’t need to look at those as though they’re inconsequential.”

Bruce Wood Dance rehearsing Yin Yue’s Begin Again. Photo: Brian Guilliaux

Nikaidoh notes that Wood created the piece in honor of her grandma, whom he was very fond of. “He and my grandma had a really sweet relationship. He would let her come watch rehearsal and she was just such a sweet, compassionate and lovely person who really appreciated Bruce’s work.”

On the other hand is Rhapsody in Blue, which Nikaidoh describes as one big party. “It’s elegant, charming and just loads of fun. And that is one of his most classical pieces. There’s a lot of fun, flirtatious and an almost who cares feel to parts of it.”

The third piece on the program is Yin Yue’s Begin Again, which uses heavy electronic music and FoCo contemporary technique to support the cyclical nature of the work. FoCo is a contemporary folk style that Yue originated, which is inspired by the elements, including root, wood, water and metal. Nikaidoh got to experience this way of moving firsthand when Yue visited BWD back in May. In addition to creating a work for the company’s Harmony performance, Yue also taught several technique classes during her stay.

It was during these classes where Nikaidoh says Yue began to create movement for her new work. “She would do some warm up in place and then she would just start a choreographic phrase and what I ended up realizing is that a lot of the movements that she generates for a piece come from these phrases that she uses in her classes.”

Nikaidoh also learned that Yue’s movement style is driven by an internal rhythm instead of a musical melody. Nikaidoh explains, “So, she feels inspired that the first movement should be slow and thick and then the second two movements need to be staccato and coming quicker. And that’s interesting because even though some parts of the dancing end up going exactly with the music the movement itself and the rhythm you’re supposed to do the movement with are really coming from inside her and not from the music.”

Originally from Shanghai, Yue studied classical ballet, Chinese classical and folk dance at Shanghai Dance School. She continued her education at Shanghai Normal University where she had the opportunity to appear in many festivals and dance performances throughout China. Yue moved to New York City in 2004 to pursue a MFA in contemporary dance from New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts.

Yue’s distinct movement style has earned her many accolades over the last couple of years, including winner of Hubbard Street Dance Chicago International Commissioning Project in 2015, BalletX’s 2015 Choreographic Fellowship and Northwest Dance Project’s 5th annual Pretty Creatives International Choreographic Competition in 2013. She was also selected as an emerging choreographic at Springboard Danse Montreal in 2015 and was a finalist of The A.W.A.R.D Show 2010 put on by New York The Joyce Theater Foundation. She currently resides in New York where she is the artistic director of the Yin Yue Dance Company. She also holds the position of artistic director and residency choreographer at Jiangxi Zhongshan Dance School.

In a video on BWD’s Facebook page Yue expresses her amazement with how quickly the dancers were able to pick up her movement in a very short timeframe. “The first couple of days are just about getting your body into what you are doing and there is a learning and questioning like why and how and then we can already see the dramatic change about Thursday Friday,” Yue says. “So, then I create a phrase in front of them and I look back and they are already doing it so we are already 80 percent there and for me it is just way fast.”

You can see Bruce Wood Dance perform Yin Yue’s Begin Again at the company’s Harmony performance at 8 pm. June 15 and 16 at Moody Performance Hall in Dallas.

>This preview was originally posted on TheaterJones.com.

 

What Lies Beneath: Preview of Avant Chamber Ballet’s Women’s Choreography Project

ACB company member Emily Dixon Alba.  Photo: Rhilee Photography

Avant Chamber Ballet reaches new emotional depths in Kimi Nikaidoh’s latest work, The Face of Water, part of the company’s Women’s Choreography Project this weekend.

Dallas — If there is one thing I’ve learned from watching Kimi Nikaidoh’s choreography it is that she likes to take you on a journey either musically, emotionally or narratively speaking. Her first work, Find Me (2015), for Dallas-based Bruce Wood Dance (BWD) was a beautiful tribute to Wood’s aesthetic and evoked warm, happy feelings. Her second work, Bloom (2016), was more introspective and carried the theme of healing and recovery with more of a straight forward narrative. In Nikaidoh’s newest work, The Face of Water, she uses a range of emotions and the highs and lows within the music to drive the movement home.

“So, the piece doesn’t follow a narrative, but is more about an emotional journey,” Nikaidoh says. “In the music there are these beautiful moments that feel to me like new beginnings. I’m talking about these long, stretched out notes that felt like one thing has finished and a new thing is starting. In the music I hear a lot of activity, turmoil and what I started to frame in my head as work, and then what follows these sections are these sweeter, longer notes of hope and new beginnings.”

Watching Avant Chamber Ballet rehearse The Face of Water at Royale Ballet Dance Academy in Dallas last week I was surprised by the amount of ballet vocabulary and other classical elements Nikaidoh chose to use in the piece. But really I shouldn’t be surprised, since a ballerina was all Nikaidoh wanted to be until injuries and the advice of others lead her to audition for the Fort Worth-based Bruce Wood Dance Company (BWDC) when she was 18. Leading up to this Nikaidoh had trained with Tanju and Patricia Tuzer, Canada’s National Ballet School, the School of American Ballet and American Ballet Theater.

Nikaidoh danced with BWDC until 2004 when she moved to New York to have ankle surgery and earn a degree in neuroscience from Columbia University. During this time she also continued to perform with various groups, including Bruce Wood Dance, Thang Dao Dance Company, Columbia Ballet Collaborative and Emery LeCrone Dance. Nikaidoh also toured nationally and internationally with Complexions Contemporary Dance. After Wood’s death in 2014 Nikaidoh decided to return home and eventually took over the reins of BWD.

The Face of Water is one of two new works ACB will present as part of its Women’s Choreography Project (WCP), April 21-22, at Moody Performance Hall. The other work is Day Vignettes by former Ballet Austin dancer Michelle Thompson Ulerich with new music by composer Catherine Davis. ACB’s entire program, titled Moving Music, will also feature George Balanchine’s Valse Fantaisie, Christopher Wheeldon’s The American Pas de Deux and Paul Mejia’s Serenade in A. Each piece will be accompanied by live music.

When asked about her decision to have Nikaidoh set a piece on the company, ACB Artistic Director Katie Cooper says, “I’ve known Kimi since I was a teenager and I’ve always admired her as an artist both as a dancer and now as a choreographer and director. Her work is very balletic, but the center of gravity is lower like Bruce’s work so it’s a nice change from our more classical repertoire.”

Inspired by Argentine composer Osvaldo Gojilov’s 2002 chamber piece TenebraeThe Face of Water is an emotional rollercoaster that forces the dancers to delve deeper into their own psyche. In between trios and quartets Nikaidoh has incorporated standard pas de deux and corps work that feature the dancers’ gorgeous lines, pliable spines and supple feet, which will be adorned in ballet slippers for this number. Like Cooper, Nikaidoh preferred to keep the corps in motion with continuous formation changes and stage entrances that challenged both the dancers’ musical timing and spatial awareness. You can see Nikaidoh’s own personal touches sprinkled throughout the piece, but especially in the dancers’ port de bra arms and the quieter moments in the music where the dancers had to rely on smaller gestures and unlikely body shapes to convey their feelings.

When asked about her experience working with the dancers Nikaidoh says, “I loved working with ACB. The dancers are smart, quick and so willing to do the work.”

She adds, “This was also a great learning experience for me because I am used to working with a certain set of dancers who in general were approaching movement from Bruce’s perspective. I noticed that even though I share a classical vocabulary with ACB there were still things about how I wanted them to get from one classical step or space to another that were very influenced by my contemporary background and my work with Bruce. So, what I recognized during the process was that those were the moments I needed to spend time on.”

Now, unlike Cooper’s balletic works, Nikaidoh’s piece doesn’t include any petite allegro jumping sections or any grande jete jumping passes. You also won’t see any fouette turns. Instead, Nikiadoh focused on the dancers’ connections both physically and visually and how these connections change and evolve with the music. “We talked about connective tissue between them and for them to all feel like there’s this complex type of spider web that’s connecting everyone’s limbs together. I mean these dancers are used to working as an ensemble and they understand the importance of clean lines and the need to stay together, but when you have someone new come in and ask them to go off balance or run low instead of high sometimes a different image can be helpful.”

This year marks the fourth annual WCP, an endeavor Cooper started when she noticed so few female choreographers being represented on many local and national professional dance companies’ seasonal programs. Since its inception WCP has featured new works from almost a dozen national and international female choreographers, including Shauna Davis, Janie Richards and Elizabeth Gillapsy. As far as where WCP goes from here Cooper says, “I’d love to get to a place where WCP isn’t needed anymore. In four years I’ve seen a shift across the country with a lot of discussion of the problem and many more ballet companies commissioning female choreographers. We aren’t there yet, but we are inching toward equity.”

This preview was originally posted on theaterjones.com.

 

Heart of Texas: Preview of Bruce Wood Dance’s Lone Stars Performance

Red from Bruce Wood Dance is part of Lone Stars. Emily Drake is second from front. Photo: Sharen Bradford/The Dancing Image.

Bruce Wood dancer Emily Drake on partnering with Houston-based METdance in Bridget L. Moore’s new work, Following Echoes, part of the Lone Stars performance on Friday.

Dallas — Emily Drake is not hard to spot on stage amongst the other members of Bruce Wood Dance (BWD). Her fiery red hair and petite statue will always draw your eye, but it’s the way she lives in the movement that keeps us from being able to look away. “Emily is a really gifted performer and an intelligent mover,” says BWD Artistic Director Kimi Nikaidoh. “She can make just about anything work. So, say you ask her to make a turn go into something else that goes to the floor or in the air and she can very quickly find a way to make that happen. Her musicality is also really remarkable. …There are dancers who can do something on the note and there are dancers who can do something with the feeling of the note in the music and Emily can do with the feel of the note immediately. It’s this emotional intelligence too that makes her performance so satisfying to watch.”

Originally from Nashville, Drake grew up studying modern, ballet and jazz and attended summer programs at The Rock School of Ballet. She came to Dallas in 2010 to attend Southern Methodist University’s Meadows School of the Arts where she had the opportunity to perform in works by renowned choreographers Martha Graham, Adam Hougland, Jessica Lang, Billy Siegenfeld, Bill T. Jones and local dancemaker Bruce Wood. She met Wood toward the end of college and worked with him on a project basis till she graduated in 2014 and officially joined the Bruce Wood Dance Project (BWDP), now Bruce Wood Dance. Today, Drake is one of the few remaining company members that got to work with Wood directly before his passing in May of 2014.

“He was very intense,” Drake says about her first time working with Wood in the summer of 2013. “He did not let me go under the radar. He pushed me and really laid into me and it was all because he was trying to get something out of me that I wasn’t aware of yet. He just had this energy about him that made the people around him want to be great for him.”

Drake laughs as she reflects on RED, the first piece she learned with the BWDP, and one of the two Wood works the company will be presenting at its Lone Stars performance with special guests Houston-based METdance this Friday evening at Moody Performance Hall. “I was blown away by the physicality of it and at the time it was the hardest dance I had ever done.” Drake explains, “I didn’t know how to balance my energy yet so, I just pushed myself to go 100 percent the entire time and you just can’t do that in this piece. After I learned how to control my energy the piece feels so different now and I definitely get more enjoyment out of doing it.”

In addition to RED, BWD will be doing another Wood favorite, Lovett! and Drake and David Escoto will perform in Bridget L. Moore’s new work Following Echoes alongside METdance company members Danielle Garza and Kerry Jackson. The program also features METdance’s Mario Zambrano’s VolverParalyzed by Fear by Houston-based Courtney Jones and Snow Playground by New-York based choreographer Katarzyna Skarpetowska.

“This show is all about celebrating dance in Texas,” Nikaidoh says about the program which she collaborated on with METdance Artistic Director Marlana Doyle. “At first it was just going to be a shared show and then we thought how great it would be for someone to come in and set a work using dancers from both companies.”

The choreographer they chose is Texas native Moore, who at the time was the head of Dallas Black Dance Theatre. She has since been released from her position for reasons that are still unknown. It’s the organization’s loss as Moore has continued to find ways to share her creativity within the Dallas community and her most recent work, Following Echoes, will be making its debut in Lone Stars. “The only directives we had for Bridget was length, the number of dancers and that we would like the work to have emotional weight and be athletic,” Nikaidoh says. “We appreciate her coming in and giving our dancers this opportunity to learn from her.”

As one of the four dancers in the piece Drake was able to give me some behind the scenes information about Moore’s creative process and what is was like working with the dancers from METdance. Drake says Bridget started off the process by talking to them about her feeling for the piece. That it would be her way of showing appreciation toward Bruce as well as delve into the different transitions we go through in life.

“She then used the different images we have of Bruce in the studio to create a motif based off of how each image made her feel,” Drake says. “Some of the movement was planned while other times she would just give us a directive like right leg developpe in a circular motion.”

Drake adds that the structure of the piece is a mix of ensemble work with solos plugged in, but in the ensemble sections the dancers are rarely doing the same things at the same time. She also says there is not a whole lot of partnering involved in the dance. “Bridget likes to keep your eyes moving around the space. She likes filling up the stage so big, full lines of energy are very important to her.” Drake describes the piece as, “Kind of like being on a rollercoaster because there are these moments of high energy and others when the movement calms down, which is represented through the highs and lows in the music.”

The cast learned the piece in a very short time at the BWD Gallery back in December and then to keep things balanced went to Houston to rehearse at METdance’s studio space a few weeks ago. “It has been a really nice collaboration,” Drake says. “Everyone was so easy going and honestly we were just enjoying each other’s company.”

As for Drake’s future as a dancer she says, “BWD is home for me. It has given me everything I didn’t know I was looking for and there has never been a moment that I felt like I wasn’t growing as a dancer.” She adds, “From the start everyone was so supportive and I never really felt like I was in this alone and that’s what I like about the company. BWD has always been first and foremost about the group so, if you don’t love it then this is not the place for you.”

>This preview was originally posted on TheaterJones.com.

 

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

 

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.