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