Dallas native Kimi Nikaidoh became artistic director for the Bruce Wood Dance Project in July 2014, two months after its nationally acclaimed founder and namesake passed away. Now, at age 34, she has found a way to meld her own artistic vision with his enduring legacy, which continues this month, November 13 and 14, for the project’s five-year celebration at Dallas City Performance Hall in the Arts District. We talked to Nikaidoh about her path to the BWDP and her plans for the company’s future.
What started at age 3 as an affinity for gymnastics morphed into a love for dance. When did you realize you could make a career out of dancing? My mom asked me to pick between the two, and it was not hard. Ballet had really overtaken my love for gymnastics, and I’m just glad I picked dance, because I’m still doing it at 34. Around age 12 or 13—when I started going to summer programs like the School of American Ballet in New York—was when I started realizing that this might be something I’ll have the chance to do professionally.
How did you end up dancing for Bruce Wood? Near the end of high school, I was continuing to get lower leg injuries, and classical ballet was starting to seem like a goal I couldn’t attain. I knew that while I thought I was probably going to be able to be a professional in the performing arts field, maybe ballet wasn’t going to happen. That was heartbreaking, but I could tell that physically that was going to be a very short career if I even had one. Two friends separately told me that the Bruce Wood Dance Company [the original incarnation, which lasted from 1996 to 2007, before it was revived as the Bruce Wood Dance Project in 2011] was holding an audition, and at the time, I had only seen the modern-style BWDC perform once. But I decided I would just go to this audition as practice. They offered me a contract at age 18. I found an article where there was an interview with Bruce, and he was being asked about his favorite choreographers. Through reading that article, I thought this was probably a better fit than I even realized.
After five years with the company, you moved to New York to dance with Complexions Contemporary Ballet, from 2005 to 2008, and then work on your undergraduate degree at Columbia University. Did you keep dancing for Bruce during that time? Yes. My first season with the BWDP was 2011. Bruce called me and said they were doing a show and he wanted me to dance in it. And I, of course, was thrilled because, after leaving Fort Worth, I had always missed his choreography. Getting to work with him in the BWDP was truly a dream come true. It was a joy and love that I had lost for a time, and to have that restored was incomparably satisfying.
“I decided I would just go to this audition as practice. They offered me a contract at age 18.”
After Bruce died last year, how were you chosen to be artistic director? I started as acting artistic director in July 2014; they recently changed my title to artistic director. When Bruce passed, there were only two weeks until a performance was scheduled at Dallas City Performance Hall. So it pretty much was immediately decided that we would continue with the program. I’d been living in New York for 11 years and flew back to Dallas to see what I could do to help. It was a couple weeks after that when arts patron Gayle Halperin asked if she and I could have a coffee meeting. I was actually surprised that she asked if I’d direct the company.
What did you learn from him that you carry on your own journey as artistic director? I think what he still inspires in me is bravery. The possibility of failure is a thing that I face as soon as I wake up, and I know he battled that, too. But he still got out of bed and did his very best to make art that would heal and inspire and bring joy to his audiences. I want the BWDP to keep doing that.
What goals of your own do you bring to the company? Taking the company on tour is a major goal of mine in the next year and a half. In all the years of BWDC and BWDP, we only performed work by four other choreographers. So one of the obvious changes is that we will be having other choreographers who work with the company. I think Bruce’s work is foundational for us, and that’s a beautiful place to start. He was so prolific that we’re going to be able to share what a lot of the nation didn’t see. What I want is for the BWDP to become Dallas’ chief dance exporter.
It seems like Bruce left big shoes to fill. Being the director of Bruce’s company was never something I dreamed of. What’s been cool about that is there isn’t as much of my self-worth wrapped up in my work with this company as would have been if it were always my goal. It’s been neat to see how motivated I am. But I feel pretty confident when I speak from my own voice that I’m staying true to what he would want.
A version of this Q&A appears in the November issue of D Magazine.