I am a Bruce Wood acolyte to the nth degree, so it was especially thrilling to be at the five-year anniversary performance of the Bruce Wood Dance Project Friday night at Dallas City Performance Hall. The company presented a sandwich of two revived works by the late choreographer, Requiem (2003) and Polyester Dreams (2002), with founding member Albert Drake’s new Whispers premiering between the two Wood pieces. Considering the difficult circumstances of restaging Wood’s work after his passing, BWDP did an amicable job.
The curtain rises on twelve dancers sitting shoulder to shoulder on a long black bench across the left side of the stage. The church-like music of Mozart’s Requiem in D Minor hovers over these 21st century young adults dressed in black athletic clothes with an odd tuxedo tail draped over their rears. The music and Bruce Wood’s choreography fit together beautifully, but the costumes were an unfortunate mismatch, distracting from any possibility of receiving the gift of Bruce Wood’s beloved modern artistry. With its razor-sharp unison work, cannons and counterpoints under Mozart’s persistent strings, the dancers were well rehearsed and strong. It’s a shame the contrasting costumes were kept in place for this restaging. Indeed, there were slight errors in unison by this ensemble, but the group did hit the inner pulse of Wood’s choreography.
Drake’s piece began with a dimly lit stage saturated in red and magenta lighting. Four female dancers perched across the stage, evenly spaced and dressed in red uni-tards, with a nude sack covering their heads and faces, a long ribbon of soft red fabric tied to their waists and extending behind their bodies all the way up beyond the proscenium edges while a single male figure contemplating his own reflection danced toward a low hanging mirror downstage left. Requiem has a powerful, earthly feel, as captured in Drake’s weighty, indulgent choreography. Maybe by design, the piece had no clear confluence from one segment to the next, with the initial creepy darkness never really dissipating after the backdrop lifted.
A series of variations, followed by a female solo confined to the boundaries of a square floodlight, all lead up to the final ensemble section. It was then, in those last 4 minutes, when Drake finally proved himself a choreographer worthy of sharing the stage with the masterful work of Bruce Wood. As if to underline acceptance of new beginnings, the house rose in standing ovation at the conclusion of Drake’s piece.
Bringing the evening to a sassy conclusion was the company’s restaging of Polyester Dreams. The men were decked out in 1970s polyester button-down shirts tucked into tight pants while the women wore light, flirty dresses with fluffy boas wrapped around their necks. This delightfully quirky and clever choreography, set to the popular music of James Brown, Gladys Knight, The Isley Brothers, The Jackson Five, and Marvin Gaye, highlighted the technical and dramatic strengths of this revitalized company. Individual dancers also made the most of their strengths and limitations to get at the heart of the choreography – one conquers the steps through musicality, another through use of playful dramatics, still another via sheer physical endurance and strength.
Too bad the momentum stopped halfway through the performance with two moments of political altruism. The dancers stopped performing, walked on the stage and flashed large black cue cards each with a single word written on it. I came to experience dance, not political grandstanding.