Stepping up

dance-1
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

On Edge

Hubbard Street Dance’s gay leader Glenn Edgerton brings a dancer’s perspective to contemporary troupe

STEVEN LINDSEY  | Contributing Writer stevencraiglindsey@me.com

Chicago’s Hubbard Street Dance Company
MOTION, EMOTION | Chicago’s Hubbard Street Dance Company, led by Glenn Edgerton, continues to evolve after 33 years as a leading contemporary dance troupe.

HUBBARD STREET DANCE
Winspear Opera House,
2403 Flora St.
Nov. 19 at 7:30 p.m. $25–$125.
ATTPAC.org

…………………………….

Ask six people to describe contemporary dance and you’ll get six different responses. As an art form, it encompasses so many varied techniques, styles and points of view, categorizing it as one thing is a fool’s errant.

And that’s perfectly fine with Glenn Edgerton. “As long as they make you feel something and have an emotional impact,” he says, “we’ve done our job.”

For 33 years, Chicago’s Hubbard Street Dance Company has been one of the nation’s most celebrated troupes, and under Edgerton, a dancer for 11 years who has  served as artistic director since 2009, it has continued to innovate and excite. TITAS presents the company at the Winspear Opera House Friday.

Edgerton’s background as a dancer, with both Nederlands Dans Theater and the Joffrey Ballet, shaped his ethic and his creative vision.
“I’m always fashioning my decisions, trying to put myself in the dancer’s position. How would it have felt? How would it have been for me if certain things are going in one direction?” Edgerton says. “I try to work so that my dancers will be challenged and inspired. I’m thinking in a dancer’s perspective. I was born a dancer and will die a dancer.”

HSDC’s current roster includes 16 dancers, and Edgerton hopes to add a 17th next year. They’re smaller than some classical dance companies, though they have a great track record for retaining artists and exploring new territory with them as they explore new techniques.

“You have a relationship with them in terms of their artistic output. We have dancers in the company who have been here 10, 11 years and then some that have just joined. I adore each and every one of them,” he says.

Becoming a part of the elite team doesn’t necessarily fit any specific molds, but Edgerton can almost immediately sense in an audition when a dancer might be a good fit.

“You know when you see it and you know when you work with them. It’s one thing to see a dancer in a ballet class who has a wonderful technique, but in a contemporary company you have to be ready to move in a much more extreme way than classical ballet. You have to have an inherent ability to try many different types of dance and just have that overall feel that you’re a dancer and not stuck to one technique or another.”

Diversity of style is a hallmark of HSDC, perhaps most perfectly evidenced in one of the numbers being performed Friday night: “With Physikal Linguistiks, you have Victor [Quijada], who came from Los Angeles where he was a hip-hop dancer. He has a real ballet background also, but when he’s choreographing he’s using all of those kinds of techniques and dance moves into his work. It’s also interesting because he’s taking the dancers out in the audience.”

Edgerton is reluctant to admit that shows like So You Think You Can Dance have a positive impact on exposing new people to dance, but he says they do have their place.

“There’s an accessibility with those programs, but it could be confused when [viewers] come to the theater and see concert dance,” he says. “It’s cool and hip and fun on TV, but in the theater it’s more artful. There’s more thought-provoking imagery built into these pieces. All those TV programs are much more commercially minded and geared to more fantastic technique and movements that are more thrilling. Ours are thrilling, too, but the approach is a little different. People need that awareness going in.”

If that means no celebrity judges screaming like morons for camera time, then that’s an entirely good thing. But HSDC has been judged on its merits by the dance world for more than three decades, and clearly it’s a winning combination of art, choreography and technique that keep it relevant and evocative of the universe around it.

“I’m not boasting, I’m just stating that we’re one of the important, international contemporary dance companies in the world,” Edgerton says. “And I’m excited to bring it to Dallas and this spectacular new performing arts center.”

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition November 19, 2010.

—  Michael Stephens