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Review: Bruce Wood Dance Project in Dallas, Program 1

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Posted 4:03pm on Friday, Jun. 22, 2012

A year is a long time. But just be grateful that Bruce Wood is back in the swing of things, even if it took him a year to put on another full program.

Will he pull it off again? Why bother even asking? The question is: what awaits?

Thursday night Bruce Wood Dance Project ventured into slightly new territory with a work not by Wood, but by recent Southern Methodist University graduate Joshua L. Peugh called Slump, and Wood's own premiere, I'm My Brother's Keeper. The first was a comic battle of the sexes, the latter a somber and touching search into the relationship between men: fathers and sons, brothers, friends, lovers.

To end things on a sunny note, Mr. Wood's usual paean to all-things-great-about-Texas went into full gear with Lovett!, set to such familiar fare as Cryin' Shame and That's Right (You're Not From Texas), songs performed by Lyle Lovett.

Slump could have just as well been called Slouch, for the dancers—in perky '50s dresses for the women and trousers for the men—bobbed and lumbered low to the ground, feet often wide apart even when their hips were gyrating. The men are as wary of the women as the women are contemptuous of the men, but that doesn't keep them separate for long. Sometimes the men carry their partners upside down, like a large sack of flour. Or a woman presses her head into a man's mid-section, and he manages to rotate her about, head still pressed on him. Or he forms a human bench for her to sit on, and later she is crawling after him as he disappears in the distance.

The oompah sound of Klezmer music contributes to the rustic image, as do the deliberately ungainly gates and rude rejections.

There is a little of the battle of the sexes in Lovett!—women wag their fingers and saunter off as the men crawl after them on bent knees—but mostly it is a friendly and companionable affair. They dance with silken ease though The Waltzing Fool, the women buoyed aloft and lowered to the ground as smoothly as the wind rustling the trees, or else they line up in If I Had a Boat and bob and sway their way from one side of the stage to the other. Images so simple and telling last a long time, and further secure Mr. Wood's place as a master choreographer.

But it is also his emotional range that sets him apart. He can be witty or heart-wrenching, decadent or romantic, letting the music, the movement, the lighting and the costumes dictate the mood. Everything, in short, is put together.

Nowhere did that become more evident than in I'm My Brother's Keeper, a reminder that even when men part ways, whether it is a son and his father, friends or lovers, there is always something that bonds them.

On a dark foggy stage, nine men sit along a long bench, barely visible, and still. They are all in black suits and ties, and some wear suspenders or vests. It begins with Gary Floyd singing "There was a boy" as two men move forward, and the older man closes his arms around a young man, lifts and lowers him gently before entwining him in one long sinuous movement. They return to the bench, and the music of Philip Glass takes over, subdued and yet intense.

A series of duets, trios and ensembles follow. Some are intense and jerky, others restrained and tentative, and yet others brooding with pent up emotion. A man takes his coat off and wraps it around his dying father; another man gives his lover a little shove. Three men take turns lifting and turning each other in a show of trust. What all of it suggests is the complexity, the richness, the fragility and ultimate acceptance of love in its many guises. It ends with just a few words from a song, Carry Me Daddy.

As with all of Wood's deeper works, it is understated, and therefore all the more powerful.

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