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Arts & Entertainment

Bruce Wood Dance Keeps Moving Forward

Its founder's legacy lives on five years after his death.
Bruce Wood Studio Dancers
Brian Guilliaux

Before Bruce Wood unexpectedly died in 2014, the choreographer had created 80 full-length repertory works for the eponymous dance company he founded in Fort Worth in 1996, after moving from New York. His choreographic reach ranged from glamorous, jazzy pieces set to Gershwin to ensemble numbers with sweeping spiritual gravitas and haunting solos. Wood’s signature was a style that plumbed the depths of emotion with an immediacy that went beyond technical prowess. Using innovative lifts and duets, dancers created surprising and gorgeous shapes that harnessed the full power of human touch without tricks.

“He made you dance as a real human having a relationship with another person,” says Joy Bollinger, current artistic director and one of three women who carried on Bruce Wood Dance after his death. The company is now entering its 10th season in the Design District studio that Wood saw but never had a chance to use. “An entire company of dancers who never met Bruce, who have fallen in love with his aesthetic, are getting to experience his movement and his style,” Bollinger says.

The company’s recent programs layer repertory work by its namesake with commissions from like-minded choreographers. These collaborations have drawn national attention and led to an invitation to perform in January at The Joyce Theater in New York. Bruce Wood Dance will be one of four regional companies to be paired with a New York counterpart. Along with José Limón Dance, a veteran company that also lost its founder and carried on, Bruce Wood Dance will revive Wood’s seminal I’m My Brother’s Keeper, the penultimate piece he completed before his death.

“He’d played with the idea of an all-male company throughout the years,” says executive director Gayle Halperin, who faced the decision many times to fold the company and who located its current studio space. “That piece was him really achieving this breakout moment in the storytelling of his life and relationships with his father, his grandfather.” A multigenerational cast allowed him to break the mold of all-male technical bravura.

“Harvest,” the November show in Dallas, includes three works. In My Your Head is a world premiere by Bollinger set to the music of Radiohead. Follow Me, a tribute to the U.S. Infantry choreographed by Wood in 2004, is being produced in honor of Veterans Day. And internationally renowned choreographer Bryan Arias returns with his world premiere of Live, Love, Laugh.

Bollinger and Kimi Nikaidoh, both veterans of Wood’s original company, are working together to move the company forward. Bollinger replaced Nikaidoh as artistic director when Nikaidoh moved to Los Angeles. Now the artistic advisor, Nikaidoh flies back to act as rehearsal director and help restage works, and she will create a new piece for the 2020–21 season. She also finds guest choreographers to commission, enabling the company to continue to grow and thrive.

“It’s hard for a company to regroup and rebuild,” Halperin says. “That has not happened to too many companies.”

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