One of Texas’ artistic treasures, choreographer Bruce Wood continues to amaze the dance world
GREGORY SULLIVAN ISAACS | Contributing Writer
The three male dancers are all entwined as they gracefully move under and around each other. “Keep moving. Don’t let go. Keep moving,” Bruce Wood shouts, “or you’ll get stuck.”
Wood — for a decade, the Fort Worth-based founder and artistic director of the Bruce Wood Dance Company, one of the most acclaimed modern dance troupes in the Southwest — is rehearsing his new show. It’s a welcome development; Wood had been sorely missed ever since he closed his eponymous troupe five years ago.
That company achieved international acclaim based on his highly creative choreography; he’s up to more of it now. This performance marks the second season of his new company, now called the Bruce Wood Dance Project, launched last year, largely through the efforts of his producer and patron, Gayle Halperin.
“Bruce is the ‘real thing,’ as my friend and ballet teacher Kim Abel says — and I do not say that lightly,” coos Halperin. “Bruce has that special gift to create meaningful, intelligent, moving and exquisitely structured works that pinpoint different episodes in our lives. His works are about people and their relationships. He’s able to take a feeling and transform that into a dance work that makes the hair on your arms stand up and leaves lasting after images.”
For Halperin — and anyone else in love with dance — having him back at the helm of a local troupe (this time, he’s based in Dallas) is exciting —already, it’s another jewel in the city’s diadem of arts organizations.
“I’m calling it a ‘dance project’ instead of a ‘company’ because these two seasons of performances are just the beginning,” says Wood. “We will see where it goes. We are doing two completely different programs on four alternate evenings.”
The complex program of six dances reconfigured over four performances is a big undertaking for a relatively new company, but Wood never backed away from a challenge. “Two programs means twice the work,” he says, “but the rewards are doubled as a result.”
Besides, he is not doing it all himself. As part of his efforts to create a vibrant dance environment, Wood invited Joshua Peugh to join him as associate choreographer — the first time he’s ever done that in a storied career.
“I saw a video clip of his work with the Dark Circles Contemporary Dance Company in Korea, which he co-founded. It was just wonderful. He had that special spark that can’t be taught but that you can spot instantly,” Wood says.
Peugh, a Southern Methodist University graduate, was stunned to hear from Wood. “Here was this giant of modern dance — one of my idols — sending me an email completely out of the blue, asking if I would consider coming to Dallas to choreograph some dances for his new project,” says Peugh, who is also dancing with the company. “I was amazed. The first thing [I did was], I got was a plane ticket.”
The two choreographers couldn’t appear more different. Peugh is slender and lanky, slightly exotic and even younger than he actually is. Wood, by contrast, is compact and buff, a muscular, graceful fireplug with years of experience etched into his still-handsome face. Their choreographic styles are just as divergent.
“I leave him alone to do his work,” says Wood about his new role as a mentor. “Of course, I am always here for him to bounce ideas around or offer some possible solutions on a place where he might be stuck. But I try to stay out of the way.”
But Wood still exerts his own artistic imprimatur on the company. He assemble a group of dancers unlike those found in the traditional corps de ballet — gone is the matched line of slender swans and princes. Instead, his dancers represent a range of physical types and personalities.
That dichotomy is readily apparent to company member Harry Feril. A local boy who is a graduate of Booker T. Washington High School for the Performing and Visual Arts, Feril has a linebacker’s build capped with a wispy buzz of reddish-blond hair and a day’s stubble framing his broad shoulders. He looks like he could break Peugh in half. Yet their connection and affability with each other is evident.
“I had to make a choice between professional football and ballet,” Feril says. The decision meant that he had to change his body as well as his career goals. “In football, I was working toward strength, but in dance the goal is flexibility. You still need strength, but it is a very different kind.”
Both agree that there is little time for social life for a dancer. Neither is in a relationship (Feril is straight, Peugh gay) and both said that dance is their life partner at this point.
“It is hard for someone to understand that being a dancer takes up most of your life. You do technique classes in the day and rehearse for the performance at night. It is all so physical, pushing you body to its limits on a daily basis, that when you get home, all you want to do is rest,” says Feril. Wood concurs.
“Dancers have a very limited time to make a career,” he says. “You have to give your life over to the dance. Remember that, in most cases, is over for them by the age of 35. You have to dance while you can and live later.”
And “dance while they can” is what they are doing. Wood has set a gigantic goal for the next outing of his company, presenting multiple evenings of major works: Three world premieres (two by Wood) and three revivals. Peugh will be debuting a piece called Slump, which he describes it as “a zany and dark comedy about human courtship and its persistent repetition.” One of Wood’s premieres, My Brother’s Keeper, is “a study of iconic male relationships” — father/son, brothers and perhaps more.
Wood has never hesitated to push sexual boundaries in his work, often exploring the beauty of the male form with grace and longing.
Program 2 will include two revivals — “Follow Me,” commissioned by RiverCenter for the Performing Arts in Columbus, Ga., is a tribute to the soldiers at Fort Benning, and another based on Tchaikovsky’s “Piano Concerto No. 3 in E-Flat Major.” This rarely heard composition was begun as a symphony that the composer abandoned, only to be published after the composer’s death as a single-movement Allegro brillante for piano and orchestra. George Balanchine took a pass at it in 1956 for the New York City Ballet; Wood’s version will be completely different.
“His range is extraordinary,” says Halperin. “Really gifted choreographers are few and far between that have such a profound impact; Bruce is one of those. He has so much to contribute to the quality of life in our region and especially to tomorrow’s dancers. I feel that we need to take advantage of that, champion and support his artistry.”
Wood knows all about embracing gratitude and moving forward. He demonstrated his gratitude and embrace of beauty as a participant in the highly successful A Gathering: Dallas Arts Community Reflects on 30 Years of AIDS, held at the Winspear Opera House last December.
“I have been open about my HIV status and active to advance public awareness,” Wood says. “I hope that others will see my life, and continued work as a choreographer, as an example of always moving forward with your dreams of beauty, with gratitude, no matter what happens. I am reminded of a line in a short poem by DH Lawrence that said, ‘I never saw a wild thing feel sorry for itself.’ Great advice, I think.”
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition June 15, 2012.