Stage: Wednesday, October 31, 2002
Being Here

Bruce Wood and Fort Worth Dallas Ballet shine in two recent performances.


Who would have thought five years ago that two major dance groups would call Fort Worth home? Yet that’s what we have now with the blossoming of Bruce Wood Dance Company alongside the venerable Fort Worth Dallas Ballet. Both companies showed their stuff recently in Bass Performance Hall. The Bruce Wood dancers presented works of their namesake’s original choreography, while FWDB trotted out its first Giselle, doing a creditable job with the popular classic.

The Wood company offered all revivals this time, including Wood’s Being and Red, with his version of West Side Story rounding things out. With the company about to depart on a national tour, there wasn’t time to create anything new. But good works deserve reviving, and the first two of these are more than good. Brilliant is a better word. A second look reveals details, sometimes even operating levels, not noticed before.

Being is Wood’s sublime setting of the Bach Double Violin Concerto in D Minor, the same music the late George Balanchine used for his Concerto Barocco. That Wood’s musical awareness is as acute as his predecessor’s is evident two minutes into the piece as 10 dancers joyfully trace the solo violins and orchestral counterpoint in groupings that come together and surge away into even more complex formations. Quasi-ballet movements — lifts, arabesques, and jumps — augment Wood’s regular dance vocabulary and complement the music’s baroque formality. Solos are used sparingly, but in the elegiac slow movement Wood gives a radiant Kimi Nikaidoh a few moments of sensuous introspection before the jubilant finale brings the entire crew back.

He opens Red with another solo — a single male, upstage with his back to the audience, who gently rocks side to side before going on to give the impression that he’s exploring how his body works as if he had just moved in. Joseph Conger performed this almost ritualistic solo, which is repeated at the end with the dancer facing the audience. The goings-on in between by the whole company add substance to the repetitive minimalism of Philip Glass’ Violin Concerto, which is pretty thin stuff. The total effect with the dancers, however, is exciting and provocative and earned a standing ovation in the middle of the evening.

Of the 30-odd Wood ballets produced over the last five years, West Side Story, set to the Leonard Bernstein symphonic suite arranged from the Broadway musical, is one that misses the mark. Somehow the flamboyant Puerto Rican flavor and color of the piece fails to ignite, either visually or dance-wise. The colors are pale, the lighting is pale, and the choreography lacks bite or rhythmic intensity. Whatever Wood was trying to say here doesn’t come across.

Switching to the classical scene, FWDB’s Giselle boasted guest artist Carlos Acosta of London’s Royal Ballet as Albrecht. Big of frame and light as silk, Acosta combines a full arsenal of technical skills with a natural dramatic presence that draws the eye toward him whenever he’s on stage. His face is as expressive as his movements. The emotional roller-coaster Albrecht rides as he progresses from adolescent ne’er-do-well to remorseful adult, horrified at Giselle’s death, is portrayed not with pantomime gestures but with genuine expressions of shock and torment, which somehow radiate from within and come through in his movements and persona.

His Giselle was regular company principal Enrica Guana Tseng, who — while not in the same league as Acosta — is a lovely dancer already finding interesting aspects in the role. She has nice balance and approaches Giselle with mature assurance. Her partnering with Acosta had special moments — the two seemed lost in their own world in the second act duet — and more performances should allow a fuller character to emerge.

Christy Corbitt Miller was the second Giselle, with Ronnie Underwood having the unenviable task of following Acosta as Albrecht in this last performance. Miller began with a freshness and buoyancy that lightened the mood of the first act and of the second act’s spirit realm. She, too, is beginning to make the role her own, although neither Giselle found much drama in the Mad Scene. There’s more to it than standing around looking vacant for long stretches. Underwood held up well in his traditional look at the young aristocrat. His technical skills show tremendous promise. He also gave an impressive account of his peasant pas de quatre variation on opening night, although why he chose to sport a short haircut in this period piece is anybody’s guess. He and Miller made a handsome couple, and their dancing together appeared seamless. Michelle Gifford danced a strong Queen of the Wilis, and Margo McCann should be acknowledged for the delicious sparkle of her variation in the pas de quatre.

The corps was brilliantly prepared with almost military precision opening night, relaxing into more balletic ease by Sunday, and the company’s new music director, California-based Leanna Sterios, coaxed some wonderful sounds from the orchestra. The musicians played the fragile little Adolphe Adam score lovingly, although the conductor didn’t always find herself in tandem with the dancers. A number of tempo differences between pit and stage dotted the first performance. The one real disappointment, however, was seeing this French jewel of a ballet danced by the women in a sort of Russian-American vein with few nods to the earlier French style. The gentle, floating arms, the languid raising of the leg in Arabesque, the effortless jumps, so necessary in the land of spirits in particular, were hinted at but not seriously pursued.

Dallas supporters of FWDB are seeking funds to present this Giselle in Dallas in the spring. Acosta has made himself available for the two dates. Giselle is an important milestone for the company and deserves to be seen again, especially as minor blips should fall out by then.

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