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Theater & Dance

Can Dancers Stake Out a Career in Dallas?

With modern dance in crisis, Dallas choreographer Bruce Wood tries to fill a void: real employment for local dancers.

Dance companies are called “companies” because they work by creating a supply chain of talent in perpetual motion. The input of dancers into the organization and the output are intrinsically reliant on each other. If a “company” can hire high caliber dancers and a master choreographer, the result should be a successful work product. But, what happens when said “company” only comes together for a brief moment, one that may or may not give birth to a stable existence or traditional supply chain?

The current climate for substantial employment in the field of contemporary dance may be among the most difficult ever faced. Long-running dance companies are closing their doors for good all over the country, and particularly in New York City, a city that has been called the dance capital of the world. Choreographers are dealing with a lagging economy by re-imagining the concept of a dance “company.” Today, a “company” can be formed for a pre-determined number of performances, a condensed amount of rehearsal time, and use temporary rented rehearsal space. In many cases the only consistency from one production to the next is the choreographer.

This concept “company” is exactly what local master choreographer Bruce Wood has created, and his Bruce Wood Dance Project will premier this weekend at Booker T Washington. Will this project be a success? Much will be determined by Bruce’s selection of dancers.

When it came to selecting dancers for his project, Wood held open auditions in Dallas, in addition to scouted performances of the local university dance departments. The final selections proved both promising and diverse. For example, the project includes both young men from Southern Methodist University (Albert Drake just graduated, Harry Feril is a junior, and Landes Dixon is a senior), as well as Jennifer Mabus, a 1993 graduate of SMU and a Highland Park High School alum.

After she graduated from SMU, Mabus had no choice but to leave Dallas for New York. There she danced with major companies like Battleworks Dance Company, the Take Dance Company, and the Amy Marshall Dance Company. A career as a highly skilled professional contemporary dancer was impossible in North Texas, Mabus says.

“No matter how much I would have loved to stay home and dance, the city just didn’t have a professional contemporary dance company,” she says, which is part of the reason why Bruce Wood is winning so much attention with his project. “We are paid well, very well, actually, compared to various other companies. We have this great rehearsal space. They give us classes each day and sometimes the sponsors will even bring us lunch. They want to get the best out of us.”

Dancing on stage with seasoned professionals for the first time, SMU junior Harry Feril finds himself on a vertical learning curve, though he has had the opportunity to work with Wood when he attended Booker T Washington.

“One thing I can say about working with Bruce is if you respect him, he will respect you,” Feril says. “You come to each rehearsal prepared, he will come prepared.”

Feril believes if nothing else, this project is wonderful prep for the professional dance world.

“I believe when you come out of Bruce’s company you can dance anywhere in the world,” he says. “His style is a mix of so many techniques.”

Albert Drake just graduated from SMU this May. He is a mass of positive energy. I have seen Albert performing many times over the years. I have always been captivated by his technical abilities and moved by his spirit.

“This group of dancers are a real mixed bag,” Drake says. “He has a high school student and several dancers from his original Fort Worth Company as well as several SMU dancers. All are different heights and ages.”

Drake says he is happy to have the opportunity to dance with Wood, and he is staying in Dallas, but that is so he can complete his pre-med requirements.

Only Dixon says she will leave Dallas post-graduation.

“Most of the auditions are in NYC,” he says. “I don’t want to keep traveling every weekend because there is nothing here really. I’d rather go to where it is. Besides, I’ve been bogged down the last four years at SMU doing pretty much the same stuff again and again. I have more to learn. I really want to spend the next year gathering everything I could not get here in Texas.”

It will be very interesting to see how everything comes together in the end. After spending the morning chatting with the dancers and watching them rehearse I am convinced of their mutual respect for one another. This is a wonderful smorgasbord of talent Bruce Wood has collected and brought together. Hopefully, the “Company” will survive and become a significant part of the contemporary dance supply chain in Dallas.

Photo courtesy of Bruce Wood Dance Project