Many obits are respectful recitations of the cost of a life to the community, but the passing last night of my friend, Bruce Wood, at age 53, is far, far more personal. Bruce — whose next performance with the Bruce Wood Dance Project, Touch, is scheduled for June 12–13 at City Performance Hall — was the first man who got me excited about the art of dance.
He was a gifted dancer in his own right. A Fort Worth native, he studied under the tutelage of George Ballanchine from age 16, and rose to principal dancer with New York City Ballet. In 1996, he founded the Bruce Wood Dance Co., and soon thereafter is when I caught the dance bug. His works were remarkable things, full of energy and wit and breathtaking style. He once said every performance should make an audience laugh, cry and gasp. I, for one, did that, every time.
The Bruce Wood Dance Co. closed operation in 2007, but that wasn’t the end for Bruce. He went on to direct theater — in fact, he was scheduled to choreograph a show with Kevin Moriarty directing at the Dallas Theater Center next season, a sports-themed play called Colossal — and was essential to A Gathering, the two-time celebration of life and fundraiser put on by the arts groups in Dallas.
“Honestly, it’s hard for me to put my emotions into words right now,” Moriarty told me. “Like everyone else in our artistic community, I’m devastated by this loss.”
In 2010, he regrouped, forming the Bruce Wood Dance Project, which did several shows per year, thanks in large part to his producer Gayle Halperin, one of Dallas’ most respected dance patrons. That is the company set to perform Touch. The loss to them is unfathomable, as it is to me.
“Our creative work during the pre-production process [on Colossal] was typical of how he approached all of his work: Passionate, intense, smart and filled with invention and deep emotion,” Moriarty said. “Our conversations about football, dance, masculinity and sexuality, which are all theses in the production we were creating, were personal and deeply impactful for me. As a dance fan, I was personally drawn to his work on many levels — both because of the depth of its feeling and themes and because of its formal inventiveness, clarity and grace. I just can’t believe he’s gone.”
“Bruce had a special gift for pulling the best out of the people he worked with,” John Ahrens, his long-time costume designer, told me this afternoon. “Things we never thought we could do, we did for him. I knew every day I had with him was a gift.”
Bruce himself was the gift. He could be grumpy and demanding, but his charisma made it so you didn’t care. He smiled an awful lot for someone as intense as he was, who created works of such beauty.
The last time I saw Bruce in person was the opening night of Fortress of Solitude at the DTC. It was always so great just bumping into him. I’ll miss those moments as much as I will miss his art.
He passed away from pneumonia and heart failure owing to a depleted immune system Wednesday night. The onset was sudden. No funeral plans have been announced.
Here are some stories we’ve run in recent years ago Bruce. They mean so much more to me now.