Four years ago local choreographer, Bruce Wood made the difficult decision to close his professional modern dance company, a nationally regarded arts organization which he had managed to grow into a household name within the local dance community. The impact of the closing of Wood’s company was greater than just the reduction in the number of local modern dance performances. From 1996 to 2006 there were two full-time professional modern dance companies in North Texas: Dallas Black Dance Theater, based in Dallas, and The Bruce Wood Company in Fort Worth. Today, there is only one, Dallas Black Dance. Because it was a company located in North Texas, Bruce Wood Dance played a key roll in absorbing young talent as they graduated from North Texas’ university dance departments. Without this, the eco-system of local dance is damaged.
A thriving arts community requires a pipeline of talent to fuel its growth, and that talent needs to be nourished and inspired. We have part of that equation worked out. The acclaimed university dance programs at Southern Methodist University, Texas Christian University, Texas Woman’s University and a handful of local community colleges are grooming a new generation of modern dancers. However, upon graduation, without pause, these students look to other cities – New York, LA, Boston and Chicago – for full-time jobs in the field. What North Texas fails to do is channel this talent into local and regional productions both during and after graduation. And while we may have many smaller modern dance companies (for example, Loris Beckles Dancing Company, Muscle Memory Dance Theatre, Elledanceworks), these fledging organizations aren’t able to contract full-time dancers.
Meanwhile, the region’s premiere dance company, Texas Ballet Theater, has enjoyed artistic success with Ben Stevenson at the helm. However, the repertoire of Stevenson’s company consists predominantly of classical ballets – a “safe” bet within the confines of a vastly conservative audience base. Unfortunately, encouraging “safe” bets has brought our city a reputation for not supporting ‘cutting edge’ and risk taking performances – those very characteristics that enliven the art form and allow it to communicate with the contemporary world. And although TITAS imports the latest exciting creations from around the world, that kind of programming simply makes Dallas a pass-through depot of talent. If we think that importing work that has already been tested on the world stage is enough to make Dallas a thriving arts community, then we have already failed at that project.
To correct the gap in our dance ecosystem we need to create opportunities for new dancers who are trained in our local universities to remain after graduation and continue to grow professionally. Now Bruce Wood is returning with a project that tries to address this gap. Over the weekend, Wood held auditions for his new “Bruce Wood Dance Project.” That project will be a “pick-up” organization, where artists come together for one production at a time with decent compensation for their effort.
This formula is a great starting point for emerging dancers and choreographers. The best example of this model working elsewhere is “Morphosis: The Wheeldon Company,” directed by former New York City Ballet dancer Christopher Wheeldon and based out of both NYC and London. Wood is the closest Dallas has to a Christopher Wheeldon. Since closing his company Wood has consciously immersed himself in the local dance scene, choreographing new works on Texas Ballet Theater, Ballet Frontier, Texas Dance Theater, Tuzer Ballet, Dallas Black Dance Theater and many others.
But there’s a catch. A full-time company must eventually materialize because it’s very difficult to mold dancers to your aesthetic if you have to “consider a new crop of dancers” with each production, as Wheeldon says in this interview with the New York Times earlier this year.
Bruce Wood’s work is part of a cultural vernacular – impulsive dance fusion often laced with perfectly timed humor and infused with raw emotional content. It’s time to give him and modern dance in general a home. Of course, the timeless classics will always fill the seats, but that certainly does not negate the unquestionable value of edgier new creations for all participants; the dancers, the choreographer and audiences.