Those who know Bruce Wood’s work know him as a creative force who, beyond technical prowess, loved life. The dynamism of his choreography seems to suggest that dancing should embody joy and explore all facets of the human experience in its quest for emotional truth. In that sense, the company could not have chosen a better choreographic commission than the world premiere that debuted last weekend. Harmony, the program performed at Moody Performance Hall this weekend, was as rich an exploration and sounding of human emotion as one could hope.
Few works in the Bruce Wood repertoire are quite as majestic in their understated spiritual gravitas as the piece that opened the program, The Day of Small Things. One of Wood’s last works, it’s set to a requiem by contemporary composer John Rutter. The music sets up the notion of the transcendent and metaphysical, evoking a threshold through tonal grace. Wood’s choreography matches, the dancers, set in sublime pairings, seem to float into the air. The costumes, full-length dresses, evoke a billowing grace. The duet that anchors the second section is extraordinary in its tenderness. Bruce Wood dancers’ remarkable expressiveness, emotional intelligence, and humanity lends movements, luscious and yet pared almost to a sparse simplicity, a graceful, calm flow like the deepest sense of peace. When, after the back scrim pulsates with falling stars, the dancers follow a lift-heavy sequence with quiet exultation, the audience breathes a hushed and awe-struck sigh.
In contrast, Begin Again, the world premiere by Shanghai-born, New York-based choreographer Yin Yue, who set the piece on the company over two weeks in April, opens on company dancers Alonzo Blanco and Kevin Pajarillaga captured in a cold, stark spotlight. They are frozen in dramatic tension, gripping hands, the lines of their bodies striving toward each other as though across a chasm. Yue’s FoCo folk-contemporary style of dance is extraordinarily physically and technically demanding, intense and intimidating at times, the tension almost palpable against a thrumming background of electronic music. The dancers achieve remarkable extensions and elevations in a quick, precise form of movement. It’s a radical departure from the Bruce Wood choreographic language. This is exactly what artistic director Kimi Nikaidoh wanted. Loose, flowing white shirts and crimson pants become the objects of psychological projection. In an intimate duet, they seem to tilt cherry-blossom pink under the lights. At other moments marked by forceful contraction, they evoke straight-jackets or escape-artist tropes. The ambiguities are powerful, the piece riveting.
The program ended with Rhapsody in Blue, a jazzy favorite that culminates with blue glitter streaming from the ceiling. It is hallmark Bruce Wood, flirty and glamorous, and I appreciate the way it plays with Gershwin’s orchestration in chains of repeated movements.
The program was memorable and underscored what setting a guest-choreographed new work can do: highlight the strengths of a company while revealing its dancers in new ways through movement.