Stage: Wednesday, March 02, 2005
Going ‘Home’: Joy Atkins and Lee Scoggins (Photo by Loli Kantor)
Classic Wood

The Metroplex’s most talented and un-sung choreographer trots out some oldies-but-goodies.


With more than 50 ballets to his credit, choreographer Bruce Wood still offers something dazzling with every one of his programs — even when created for another company.
His latest work was commissioned by the area’s premier classical company, Texas Ballet Theater. Rheology, a luminous setting of the Tchaikovsky Theme and Variations from the Third Suite for Orchestra, was performed last month to a rousing opening-night ovation and made a positive argument for continuing the connection.
His labor on that work may explain why Wood didn’t have anything new to offer for his latest Bruce Wood Dance Company program, at Bass Performance Hall last week. What were danced were revivals of earlier works, which probably explains the skimpy audience. And what a shame! Wood’s ballets can be experienced any number of times. New facets seem to reveal themselves with each viewing.
This was particularly true of the night’s opening work, The Only Way Through Is Through, a setting of excerpts from Philip Glass’s opera Ahknaten. It’s not one of my favorites, but Wood reworked the piece’s opening with a new adagio duet, beautifully danced by Christine Freeman and Lee Scoggins, which softened the ballet’s rough, abstract edges. The extended unaccompanied section, with dancers keeping time with audible exhales to mark the way, seemed more secure and relaxed than before. And the decibel level of the recorded music that accompanied the other sections didn’t blast you out of your seat. In a way this was almost a new ballet and a more appealing version than what was presented the first time around.
What the title means is still obscure. Wood is notoriously coy about discussing what his ballets are about. Whatever experience you have when watching a performance is fine with him, as long as there’s some kind of communication. An exception is Home, the second work on the program, which he freely describes as an attempt to convey the feelings he had during a near-death experience some years ago, lying comatose in a hospital bed. Even without the explanation, the idea comes through loud and clear. As the curtain goes up, a man is seen huddled in the loop of a heavy rope suspended overhead; billowing drapery behind suggests clouds. Below are three women in white gowns and two men in white, going about their business. They ignore him until he begins to move, to open up and slowly descend. They reach up gently with loving arms to welcome him, and he slides gratefully into the group.
While the figures include him in their activities, he seems always at the end of the line, never quite part of the action. Suddenly they turn and disappear upstage. The man is alone, and the lights go out as he returns to the earth plane.
A number of people have shared the experience in words, but to see it evoked in dance is powerful stuff. Wood used parts of the Gabriel Fauré Requiem for the ballet, and of all the musical settings of the requiem mass, this is probably the sweetest and most personal. Its innocent, gentle melodies carry you to another world, one free of struggle and strife, and are perfectly suited to expressing this kind of unique odyssey.
The last piece, Cowboy Songs, needed no explanation. A celebration of our Western heritage, the ballet explodes in energetic dancing to such familiar songs as “The Streets of Laredo,” “I’ve Got Spurs That Jingle, Jangle, Jingle,” “That’s No Lady, That’s My Wife,” and finally Lyle Lovett’s infectious “That’s Right, You’re Not From Texas,” which had everyone on their feet clapping and screaming by the end. What a joy these dancers are.
In the absence of scenery, all of the ballets depended on Tony Tucci’s lighting for atmosphere and drama, and his magic was everywhere. The man is a genius, matching Wood at every turn with just the right mood to help bring the dance to life.
Wood himself is one of the under-appreciated heroes of dance in Fort Worth, struggling to keep his head above water as he produces one memorable ballet after another. Word is that suffering is good for the soul, but surely it has to end somewhere. If ever a company deserved support, this one is it. Anyone listening? l

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