‘Tempest:’ You, us

Kevin Moriarty is a director who embraces the full spectacle of Shakespeare, and while you can disagree with his decisions sometimes, you have to respect his commitment. He likes elements we might consider by-products of the Elizabethan Age, its Hey-Nonny-Nonnyisms: Interludes of courtly ballets and minstrel-strummed songs, arresting, fourth-wall-violating asides to the audience, expository speechifying — everything Chekhov and Ibsen and a host of others steered away from.

But he’s also a director who appreciates contemporary stagecraft: Reconfiguring the structure of plays, emphasizing the astonishing pageantry of an evening at the theater — sometimes taking us out of the play, but often with grandeur. The balance isn’t always an easy one, but it can take your breath away.

There are several such gasp-inducing moments in his staging of The Tempest, starting with the opening scene, set on an airplane instead of a boat. As the wizard Prospero (Chamblee Ferguson, pictured left), like Desmond from Lost, rips the jet from the sky, the stage instantly transforms into a barren wasteland, as stark and beautiful as any set the Dallas Theater Center has ever produced. There are trap doors and bits of magic and flying fairies. It will make you say, “Wow.”

But there are also the many edits. Yes, some of the talkiness is removed, but also some of the scope. And keeping it without an intermission leaves one’s butt castigated by those Wyly seats for nearly two hours.

This Tempest feels more like a series of vignettes than a single story: The comic relief, the sappy romance, the political intrigue, the long-stewing recriminations, bracketed by Ferguson’s Ahab-like Prospero. At first, he’s a vengeful terrorist and hypocritical zookeeper, enslaving his island’s native fauna, the ethereal Ariel (lithe, white-eyed Hunter Ryan Herdicka, pictured right) and its Orc-ish Caliban (Joe Nemmers, delivering us Quasimodo of the mud with poignancy and humor). Then Prospero changes gears, softening and showing mercy, moved by his daughter Miranda’s love for his enemy’s son.

The Tempest is problematic Shakespeare, neither comedy nor history nor classically tragic, but a romance with obscure motivations (how quickly Prospero’s mind is changed by Miranda’s capricious libido, when her suffering for two decades went unnoticed) made more obscure in this version — Prospero seems more like ringmaster than protagonist. Ah, well: The Bard was a better poet than playwright, so let’s give credit to Moriarty for taking this Tempest out of the teapot.

— Arnold Wayne Jones

Wyly Theatre, 2401 Flora St. Through Oct. 9. DallasTheaterCenter.org.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition September 23, 2011.

—  Michael Stephens

Stepping up

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BACK IN FRONT | Bruce Wood, above, has launched a new contemporary ballet company which debuts Friday. He will continue his signature pairings of male dancers, including former company member Doug Hopkins, below center.

4 years after closing his acclaimed dance troupe, Bruce Wood is back — this time in Dallas, and more defiant than ever

MARK LOWRY  | Special Contributor
marklowry@theaterjones.com

It was a sad day in 2007 when — after 10 seasons of delivering some of the most exciting contemporary ballets North Texas had seen from a local dance outfit — Fort Worth’s Bruce Wood Dance Company folded.

Officially, the reason for the closing was that Wood had spent the previous few years running the whole show himself; he simply didn’t have time to devote to both fundraising and dance-creating.

But it has also been suggested that the edginess of his work, notably the frequent pairings of male dancers, shocked and offended some audiences. While same-sex groupings are nothing new in contemporary dance, Wood’s frank use of it may have driven away some of Cowtown’s big-money donors.

All of which makes Wood’s reemergence (this time in Dallas) after four years away all the more exciting. The Bruce Wood Dance Project debuts Friday at Downtown’s Arts Magnet, with two world premieres and a revival of one of his best-known works, 2001’s Bolero.

One of the new dances — called Our Last Lost Chance and set to the music of contemporary Finnish composer Ólafur Arnalds — does feature a duet between two men.  But Wood sounds almost defiant about it this time around.

“There are things I was afraid to do in Fort Worth because of [reaction from] donors,” Wood now says. “Now I don’t care and I’m going to do them anyway.”dance-2

Nevertheless, Wood, who is gay, says he never pairs same-sex dancers to make any kind of statement.

“It’s simply a part of who I am and I give it no more thought than I would about having gray hair,” says the silver-maned Wood.

“Having said that, I have found that the general audience often feels it is some kind of sexual thing. It generally doesn’t occur to some that it could simply be a dance between two men that explores their relationship as friends, brothers, father and sons.”

The nature of dance, however, is admittedly imbued with a certain degree of sensuality that can provoke visceral reactions among its audiences.

“I don’t try to be subversive, but dance by its physical nature has dancers touching, holding and supporting and that can lead to all kinds of interpretations. As long as I approach the dances with honesty and integrity, I find that the audience does as well,” he says.

Wood’s new company features 16 dancers, with two of his former collaborators, Kimi Nikaidoh and Doug Hopkins, onboard. Hopkins, the longtime partner of Q Cinema founder Todd Camp, will showcase his comedic skills in the other new work on the program, Happy Feet, which features onstage music by Fort Worth Euro-gypsy band Ginny Mac.

Wood insists this is not a one-shot pilot program. Even before his official return to the stage debuts, Wood has already begun planning the next performances of his company (the dates will be announced later). And he has committed to one twist in particular: Using all male dancers.

“I have been wanting to do this for a long while, and I now have the resources to do so,” Wood says. “It will be a full evening of dances where the cast is all men. It will explore the concepts men have about themselves — what it is to be a man, and how others see them.”

But he’s not considering it a “gay night of dance.”

“Men deal with the physicality of dance very differently than women,” he says. “They’re heavier, they deal with gravity differently, they deal with each other differently, and they can be physically rougher. All of these things will make the dances in this new project completely different from anything I have ever done before.”

And when Bruce Wood says he’s headed somewhere new, no one who cares about dance can be anything other than thrilled.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition June 10, 2011.

—  Kevin Thomas