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Projecting Forward: The Bruce Wood Dance Project

by Jerome Weeks 8 Jun 2011 7:42 AM

He’s danced with New York City Ballet and Twyla Tharp. But his Ft. Worth company shut down in 2006. Now choreographer Bruce Wood is starting all over – in Dallas.


Bruce Wood was the leading contemporary dance choreographer in North Texas for a decade until he was forced to close the Bruce Wood Dance Company five years ago. KERA’s Jerome Weeks reports that Wood is back – but with some important changes.

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[sounds of rehearsal, feet pounding, Wood counting steps in time]

Bruce Wood’s choreography has won national acclaim. He’s danced with New York City Ballet, Lar Lubovitch and Twyla Tharp. And after 30 years of dance and choreography, he’s starting over, piecing together a new venture. He’s rehearsing 15 dancers at Booker T. Washington Arts Magnet High School for just two performances — to see if there’s enough public interest in his work.

Wood: “I’m not in the position yet to hire people and say, this is your full-time job now – like I had in the past. But I got the go-ahead a couple of weeks ago to do the next project. So that’s what we’re going to do.”

Which is why it’s the Bruce Wood Dance Project that debuts this weekend. It’s not a long-term company – not yet. Wood is cheerful about his prospects but has a right to be wary. He says running his Fort Worth dance company dragged him into spending too much time administrating and fundraising — and not enough time creating. But that’s not why he shut it down. When several major donations dried up in 2006, he couldn’t ask his dancers to continue without pay.

So why does he think it’ll be any different now?

Wood: “I have a short memory? [Laughs.] The difference is that the first time I went to donors to ask for their support. This time around, donors came to me and asked me to start up again.”

Which is the other big change. His new supporters are from Dallas — people like Gayle Halperin (whose husband Jim is co-chairman of Heritage Auctions) and Steven and Read Gendler (he’s president of Alliance Financial Group). Wood was raised in Fort Worth and still lives there, still works part-time at the Sundance Square outlet for the town’s classic Western-wear emporium, M. L. Leddy’s. (“I sell boots and tack and saddles [laughs]– should you ever need some. But I really love the fact that everything’s hand-crafted.”)

Yet Wood has moved his dance operations east to Dallas’ Arts District.

Lill: “Dallas has been courting Bruce for a number of years.”

Veletta Lill is the former city council member who’s now the executive director of Dallas Arts District, part of Downtown Dallas, Inc.

Lill: “When I first saw Bruce Wood Dance Company onstage at one of the dance festivals, I turned to the person next to me almost instantly and said, Who is this? Who is this? When he was performing in Fort Worth, there was always a consensus that it would be great to have Bruce over here.”

Any supposed rivalry between Dallas and Fort Worth doesn’t interest Wood.

Wood: “I figure the more people we can engage into the arts, the better. So if it’s in Dallas, I got no problems with that at all.”

In fact, in 1996, Wood established his first dance troupe – in Austin. So Dallas is actually his third home for a company.

As much as needing committed donors, Wood needed spaces to rehearse and to dance. He found them at Booker T, where his dance project will perform in the Montgomery Arts Theater. Wood has worked with Booker T before and fell in love with the Montgomery as “the perfect dance space.” Lill says the right facilities and the right educational environment in the Arts District were key.

Lill: “His desire is really to do more than performance. It’s to mentor dancers. So it’s almost serendipity for him to be here.”

[Bolero has started with rehearsal sounds]

Wood now faces the prospect of re-connecting with long-time supporters while also introducing himself to Dallasites who’ve never heard of him. This could be one of his most important productions — and one of the more important for the future of modern dance in North Texas, where outside of the Dallas Black Dance Theatre, no contemporary dance troupe has lasted long. Not surprisingly, Wood is reviving a signature piece, an audience favorite: his chilling adaptation of Ravel’s Bolero (with additional sound design by Reinhard Denke — see video below).

But he’s also taking on two world premieres. One is a quartet based on the music of the young Icelandic composer Olafur Arnalds — to which, Wood says, he felt an immediate connection.

Wood: “His landscape as a kid was just this vast empty space of white. And see, I grew up in West Texas, so I kinda related to that because it’s just a vast empty space of brown [laughs].”

[music starts under]

The other premiere features the Texas band, Ginny Mac, which will play several 1920s Euro-gypsy tunes live on stage. The entire suite of songs is called Happy Feet, and Wood says it was partly inspired by Ginny Mac’s accordion music and partly by the great dance clown Bill Irwin. But he acknowledges that that kind of whimsical humor is hard to sustain in dance.

Wood: “Doing dances that are funny, people just don’t do them because they are hard. Funny’s hard, yeah.”

So – does he think he can sustain it? Can Wood make all this work?

Wood: “Well, we’ll find out! [Laughs.] Oh I hope so, oh I hope so.”

[music out]

Bolero – Choreography by Bruce Wood from bruce wood dance project on Vimeo.