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Q&A: Bruce Wood Returns to the Local Dance Scene

by Danielle Georgiou 7 Jun 2011 3:21 PM

The Fort Worth native discusses his latest endeavor, the Bruce Wood Dance Project.


Guest blogger Danielle Marie Georgiou is the Artistic Director and Choreographer of DGDG: Danielle Georgiou Dance Group. She also serves as the Assistant Director of the UT Arlington’s Dance Ensemble.

Late last month, I was invited to a viewing of Bruce Wood’s return to the Dallas dance world.

The Fort Worth native left for New York at 16 to study with George Balanchine at the School of American Ballet. Later, he went on to dance with the New York City Ballet, San Francisco Ballet and Les Ballet Jazz des Montreal.

Bruce Wood; photo by BWDP

While in Austin in 1996, he formed the Bruce Wood Dance Project; a year later, returned to Fort Worth — where he still lives today, commuting daily to Dallas for rehearsals — and renamed the group the Bruce Wood Dance Company (BWDC). After a 10-year run, BWCD closed, but Wood continued to choreograph. Now, he is posed to reclaim his audience, premiering two new works and an old favorite, Bolero, at the Montgomery Arts Theater at Booker T. Washington High School for the Performing & Visual Arts.

His new project features 15 local dancers — including some he has worked with before. The space was intimate; the dances even more so. He exuded a nervous energy as he spoke about his work, bounced around the room, played the music, and cued the dancers.

When we finally got a moment to talk, he relaxed in his chair and opened up about his return:

Danielle Georgiou: How did the Bruce Wood Dance Project come about?

Bruce Wood: Actually, it was [President of the Board] Gayle Halperin’s idea. She came to me last year after I got this award [from the Dance Council of North Texas] for lifetime achievement [the Mary McLarry Bywaters Award for Lifetime Achievement in Dance], and when they gave me that they said, “We would like for you to choreograph this small thing.” So, I got this dancer from New York and I choreographed this small work and after the event was over, people starting going, “You know what? I think we actually really miss not having this.”

Gayle was the one who approached me and said, “Why don’t we do a project. We won’t call it a company, we’ll call it a project, and if it goes well then we’ll keep going. If it doesn’t go well, then it won’t be such a big thing.”

D.G:. I think it’s fantastic. When you were the Bruce Wood Dance Company, it was you and Dallas Black Dance Theatre as the two professional modern dance companies. Now, it’s really just Dallas Black; there are smaller companies, but the chance to perform is few and far between.

B.W.: When I closed, I didn’t realize I was the infrastructure. It oddly hadn’t occurred to me that way, but I felt it when I was trying to get dancers. It was a lot harder than I thought, because everyone had dispersed.

BWDP Salon — photo by Sharen Bradford of rehearsal of “Happy Feet” in February with Dancers Emily Hunter and Ruben Gerding

D.G.: And after this project goes up, what’s next?

B.W.: Honestly, I don’t know [laughing]. I just want to double and triple check to make sure that this is what people want. And I figure the only way they would really know is if they saw a performance. Something new. So it’s largely going to depend on the audience, people’s interest, all those sorts of things. I don’t want to do it in a vacuum.

D.G.: Right. There’s no real point in doing it that way.

B.W.: Exactly. I want people to want to have it.

D.G.: I think people will. After Cedar Lake Contemporary Ballet came in April, a lot of dancers, choreographers and educators started to talk again about contemporary dance.

B.W.: It was a really great thing that TITAS did. I think it broadened people’s perspective on what the possibilities are.

D.G.: It was a beautiful installation, and I agree. Dallas has favored classical ballet for so long, that it was refreshing to open the stage for contemporary ballet and modern, and the use of multimedia in dance.

B.W.: Right, and the problem with that is that everything is a hybrid now. I mean, you can’t dance in Europe or in New York or someplace unless you can do both really well. Even at [Texas] Ballet Theater, half of their rep is modern.

D.G.: And they are finally starting to stage more of it.

B.W.: Yes. So, the idea that you can be exclusively this or that just doesn’t really exist.

D.G.: It’s nice that people are starting to welcome that more — the abstract and the avant-garde.

B.W.: I think it opens it up and you can go more theatrical and more modern than people are used to. And you can go even more edgy and different in ballet too. It just broadens the whole scope of the landscape.

D.G.: Your protégé program gives young dancers a taste of the professional world and provides them with opportunities to dance and perform in the city where they are being raised.

B.W.: Yes. I don’t want them to feel like they have to go away for a high-end experience. I want them to have that experience here, so that later, when they want to do something, they won’t have this belief that they have to go someplace else.

D.G.: I wish there had been something like that when I was starting out. I had to really search for chances to train and perform and find someone to study under … a mentor. You’re a great resource for these young dancers. You’ve been at it for a long time.

B.W.: Oh not that long! I’ve been doing it since 1997, no 1996, so it’s not that long … wait, is that long?

D.G.: About 15 years.

B.W.: [laughing] Oh man …

D.G.: And you’ve been dancing longer than that!

B.W.: [laughing] I’ve been doing this for like 30 years.

D.G.: You’re a lifer!

B.W.: I didn’t plan on it; it’s just how it’s worked out.

Bruce Wood with trio from “Happy Feet” – Dancers McKinley Willis, Shelby Stanley, Mallory Ketch. Photo by Sharen Bradford.

D.G.: How do you keep coming up with new ideas? And wanting to come back to this?

B.W.: Well … maybe because there is always something else to say and things you haven’t tried yet, or done. Maybe there’s something else you’d like to see. As far as coming up with ideas … when I had the company, I had to do four separate shows a year, and each performance had to have at least one premiere, most often two. So that’s six new ballets a year, and that’s a lot over 10 years. So a lot of time, I just didn’t think about it. I would just do something that interested me. Some of that still applies; you just kind of find an immersion point and go.

And the dancers are a huge part of it. For inspiration – especially as I get older. I really like working with them more than just walking in and going, “You do this, and you do this.” Because that’s like they don’t matter at all. But for me, they do. So if it’s going to matter who they are, we should be more interactive.

D.G.: When you approach rehearsals and choreography, you come in with an idea of movement or a story and then create on the spot using the dancers as a point of reference. People sometimes don’t understand where the inspiration comes from.  They look for something tangible, like notes or a storyboard, but it doesn’t always work that way.

B.W.: Absolutely. You never know what’s going to strike you. I don’t always know. No two [dances] are the same. You have tools, little tricks, you can use to get you going, but when it comes, it just comes.

I find that when choreographers are inexperienced or insecure, they tend to go into the studio by themselves and rehearse a bunch of stuff and then come in and show it. I’ve never really done that … it just never appealed to me, and as I’ve gotten older, it’s even worse. I get asked all the time, “What’s the new dance?” I just go [shrugging shoulders], “I don’t know, I don’t know.” “What’s it called?” “I don’t know.” “Well what is it?” “I don’t know.”

D.G.: Got to keep them on their toes!

B.W.: Always!

D.G.: How important is it, to you, that the audience has an experience at your shows?

B.W.: It’s the whole point of doing it. To me, dance is a form of communication. So I’m trying to communicate something to you, the audience. In a perfect universe, you shouldn’t have to know a thing about dance, and I should be able to communicate very clearly. I want people to have a really uplifting and wonderful time. My dances aren’t political, and they don’t preach. I’ve tried it; it’s just not my thing. The audience having an experience: that’s the most important thing. Everything else is subservient to that one thing happening. It’s imperative.

The Bruce Wood Dance Project premieres Friday with a second show on Saturday at 8 p.m. at the Montgomery Arts Theater at Booker T. Washington High School for the Performing & Visual Arts.

The version of this interview appears in the June issue of Art + Culture Magazine.