Art and politics intermingle in our present moment. Sometimes we’re able to see a piece again and notice the ways its resonance shifts against the backdrop of new circumstances.
Such is the case for several of the numbers in Awake, Bruce Wood Dance’s performance that will take place Friday and Saturday nights at Moody Performance Hall. It reprises two recently-commissioned numbers as well as a Dallas premiere by dance titan Lar Lubovitch, who, at 79 years old, is spry and brings notes of levity and legacy.
The premiere of Forbidden Paths is an intoxicating, riveting work set on the company by choreographer Garrett Smith. It floored me when it premiered in 2019. Smith has since gained acclaim for his work for the Norwegian National Ballet
Three years ago, he was responding with dismay to legal restrictions placed on dance in countries like Iran. Now, the piece feels prescient and painfully apt in the wake of Mahsa Amiri’s death in September, which has led to protests across the globe. In Forbidden Paths, the darkness yields to two dancers—in black hoods that engulf them in shadows—who almost touch in a circle of light, then retreat at the first jangling of music, as though burned.
Set to a soundtrack patched together from disparate sources—a Sufic and classical Iranian percussive music group; a modern Iranian band; an incredibly quiet piece by Icelandic composer Olafur Arnalds—Forbidden Paths is stirring and full of texture. It is another glyph in the lexicon of protest.
With Promise Me You’ll Sing My Song, the arc of Awake offers another cry that must be heard. In 2020, at the height of the pandemic, Adam McKinney, a professor of dance at TCU and co-founder of the antiracist nonprofit dnaworks.org, choreographed a piece based on the murder of Reuben Johnson.
Johnson was a Black man who was lynched in 1874 near Mountain Creek Lake, southwest of Dallas. In the company’s first foray into film, precipitated by pandemic-related venue closures, the camera approaches dancer Matthew Roberts in a way only a camera can: close-ups in a tree and a final drone-shot pan that draws us away from the vulnerability.
McKinney instructed Roberts not to dance as Reuben Johnson, but as himself. The dance represents each of their stories. Singer-songwriter Najeeb Sabour composed the lyrics that give the piece its devastatingly beautiful title. The cello, his instrument, is the closest to the human voice in range and register, and there is an ache in recognizing that. This was also the first time McKinney worked with an all-Black creative cadre: the creatives as well as the film team of The Digibees, Pockett Brown and Jirard, who had previously produced the company’s teasers and archival footage.
The idea, at first, was to stage Promise Me You’ll Sing My Song, but Roberts has since left the company. Instead, the film will screen, fresh off the festival circuit.
Finally, Awake will include a Dallas premiere of Dvorak Serenade, by Lar Lubovitch, who will be in attendance on Friday’s performance along with McKinney. Lubovitch will also be the sole choreographic focus of Bruce Wood Dance’s spring gala performance. His relationship with Wood, the group’s founder, will be recognized on both occasions. Dvorak Serenade is a moment of stately, uncomplicated beauty and serenity; Our Last Lost Chance from the Bruce Wood repertoire will round out the show.
The title, Awake, has never felt more relevant. I am reminded of the notion that we must come to the edge of the abyss and look over, but be held back through art’s Apolline clarity.
Awake is a reminder that art allows us to fill that need; it provides an envelope for all we know or yearn for, or recoil against.
Awake will be performed at Moody Performance Hall Friday Nov. 18 at 8 PM, Saturday Nov. 19 at 2 PM and 8 PM. Get tickets here.