Stage: Wednesday, July 09, 2003
Home of the Brave

Even though times are tough for Bruce Wood, his company can still dazzle.


You couldn’t tell by appearances last weekend that the Bruce Wood Dance Company is treading on thin financial ice. A program of three Wood revivals, choreographed by the company’s founder, was a joyous celebration, carefully prepared and handsomely danced. No clouds marred the horizon.

Offered in honor of BWDC supporter Hardy Sanders, the evening included three of the late philanthropist’s favorite Wood ballets — For Buddy, Home, and Piazzolla de Prisa. Each piece profited from a second viewing. Details missed the first time came into focus, and the dancers found greater expansiveness as they moved in familiar assignments.

For Buddy, a collection of standard pop tunes played on stage in the best cocktail piano style by Shields-Collins Bray, probably won’t be remembered for its silky dance steps or inventive ensembles. But the song “Someone To Watch Over Me,” performed by two men as a brief romantic encounter sandwiched between the other numbers, will likely be recalled. Something that might have been low key and uneventful with a traditional couple took on a surprising dynamic with these two.

Piazzolla de Prisa, based on Astor Piazzolla’s music, brought cheers for its colorful, carnival-like atmosphere and Wood’s delicious mix of tight-knit ensembles and flashy, extended solos. But it was in Home, Wood’s setting of parts of the Faurè Requiem, that the meat of the evening was found. Wood has an affinity for large-scale choral works. Last time around he gave us the Mozart Requiem, arguably his most profound dance statement to date, a blazing, majestic look at the triumphant Mozart score. Home went a step further by introducing the thread of a story — or more accurately, an idea — into the ballet. It opened with a white-clad dancer suspended by a sling over the heads of five white costumed figures, a silk drapery fluttering above stylized clouds. As the body was gently lowered, it was surrounded by the waiting group in a kind of welcoming hug, which evolved into sometimes playful, sometimes reverent interplay between the dancers. Suddenly the five disappeared upstage, and the newcomer was left alone as the curtain came down. There was more than a hint of a near-death experience here, a suggestion that the spirit was returning to its body after a foretaste of “home.” The effect was remarkable theater and reflected Wood at his creative best.

It is this special creative insight and intuitive musicality that rank Wood with the best modern choreographers, in the same league with Mark Morris and Twyla Tharp. Morris made his name setting operas in which the singers were displaced to the pit with the musicians. He staged Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas and danced Dido in drag — and it was still a serious ballet. At the top of the heap now, he has a spanking new performing theater, school, and office complex built just for him in Brooklyn. Tharp has a full-length dance show running on Broadway.

Wood, on the other hand, is having trouble paying the phone bill. Fair or unfair, the reality is that contributions have fallen off and that BWDC, consequently, is at a crossroads. “It’s scary,” Wood told me. “All of our regular sources suddenly dried up.” Part of the problem lies with the board of directors, whom board president Joe Groves described as “enthusiastic and committed — but we all agree we need to expand to include a larger philanthropic base.” Applications to 34 foundations and agencies were sent out last week asking for help.

A door doesn’t close without another opening, as they say, and in this case a large door opened in the shape of Todd Edson, the company’s rehearsal director — ballet master, in modern dance terms — who is opening his own studio in September on Park Place. A 12-year principal with the company formerly known as Fort Worth Dallas Ballet (now called Texas Ballet Theater), Edson, whose bright personality and solid technique made him an audience favorite, continued teaching at FWDB until this summer. He has made room for BWDC in his new facility, which will cut the company’s expenses and give it a physical base from which to operate.

This should make the group’s primary option — spending more time on the road — a lot easier. A 30-city tour is scheduled to begin in January. Next up here is a full evening work called Cowboy Songs, which Wood is creating with country singer Michael Martin Murphey, who’ll perform most of the music. (The premiere is Sept. 22 in Bass Performance Hall.) Wood has also been commissioned to come up with a 30-minute work celebrating Columbus, Ga.’s Fort Benning and its new performing arts complex. “It was between Morris and me,” Wood said, “and after seeing a tape of my Bolero, they picked me.” Wood also travels to Orlando, Fl., next spring to set his Symphonic Dances from West Side Story on the Orlando Ballet stage. Company artistic director Fernando Bujones, who is also TCU’s choreographer in residence, saw the piece here and wanted it for his Florida company. A couple of DVD projects are in the works too.

Taking the company on the road will open more doors, and it may be that Fort Worth will lose out as home base. This would be a shame, especially as people are already whispering that Texas Ballet Theater could shift its focus to Dallas when the new opera house is built, and Ballet Arlington might move up as our primary classical company. Which would leave lots of room for a modern company, if it’s still around.

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