Stage: Wednesday, April 18, 2002
A D V E R T I S E M E N T
A D V E R T I S E M E N T
Rite On

As FWDB falters, Bruce Wood ascends to Master status with new ballets.

By Leonard Eureka

Fort Worth Dallas Ballet board members who think a dance company doesn’t need an artistic director — and they seem to be in the majority now — should haul themselves to the Bruce Wood Dance Company program Monday in Bass Performance Hall to see what a strong artistic leader can do for a company. Under Wood’s direction, his organization has progressed in five years from literally nothing to a budget of more than $1 million, a new home with a rehearsal stage as large as Bass Performance Hall, a repertory of more than 30 original ballets, and a rapidly expanding audience. And his sleek ensemble of 12 dancers is about to embark on a national tour with several top-notch programs from which to choose. This kind of growth doesn’t happen without a charismatic artistic director leading the way.

His programs are consistently compelling. Wood likes to do things the hard way, and he’s at it again this time, choreographing another musical score already immortalized in dance by the late George Balanchine — the Tchaikovsky Third Piano Concerto, known to the ballet world as Allegro Brilliante. Not long ago, Wood offered his version of the Bach D minor double Violin Concerto, the same music Balanchine used for his earlier ballet, Concerto Barocco.

Asked why he puts himself in the position of comparison with the master, Wood says, “I need the challenge. There’s nothing creatively going on in this part of the country that offers anything to bounce off of, so I put up obstacles for myself. With the Tchaikovsky, I not only had to get the Balanchine choreography out of my head — I used to dance it with the San Francisco Ballet — but the toe shoes, the tutus, the chandeliers, and all the stuff that goes with it.”

Seen in rehearsal without benefit of costumes, lighting, or makeup, the new Tchaikovsky ballet was dazzling. Wood may have thrown out the bath water, but the baby is there. In his own dance vocabulary, he has captured the joy, the sweep, and, particularly, the romance of a bygone age. Occasional nods to classical movement — a quasi-arabesque here, an exuberant grand jeté there — suggest the courtliness and civility of that era, and the total impact seems more engaging than the stately Balanchine version. This time, Wood may actually have equaled the master.

Also included Monday are a revival of Wood’s Local 126, a whimsical look at parts of two Bach concertos for multiple keyboard instruments seen last season, and what may be Wood’s most ambitious project yet, a setting of Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring (or much of the score, at any rate). It will be interesting to see what Wood finds here.

FWDB during this time has frittered away its position as one of the Southwest’s premier classical companies through organizational ineptness and lack of artistic direction. Where is the originality and pizzazz in its programs? And where has the audience gone? Reportedly the house was almost empty for FWDB’s last performance in Bass Hall. The company hasn’t had an artistic director in 18 months, and the one who left made no real impression. The board’s recent reorganization and vow to pledge $1.3 million to get itself out of hock, while great news, still doesn’t address the underlying problem: the administration’s reluctance to fully embrace the art of dance, not just its performance component. What else can one think when the dancers’ pay scale is one of the lowest in the country and FWDB still had to let go of some dancers? Offering — and then rescinding — the artistic directorship to two different candidates in a week last month was another eye-opener. Following this with an announcement that there would be no artistic director in the foreseeable future, and then saying, yes, there would be but with restrictions, a few days later, indicates an organization in disarray.

Graeme Jenkins, music director of the Dallas Opera, who conducted Dallas performances of Nutcracker for FWDB last Christmas, agrees that if the FWDB had had a spirited artistic director, those laid-off dancers might still be around. “Yes,” he says, “an artistic director would have sold his house before turning the dancers out.” Which is what Bruce Wood once did, in a way, in his company’s early days. “I sold my car one month to meet the payroll,” Wood says. “There was no other way to pay everybody.” This is the kind of commitment one looks for in a company. Someday FWDB may find it. In the meantime we can only rejoice in the Bruce Wood Dance Company.



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