DALLAS Never was a memorial service so beautifully and fittingly laid out.
On Thursday, the Bruce Wood Dance Project opened its first concert of the year, Touch, at Dallas City Performance Hall. The works planned for the program, including the new title work and revivals of Wood’s early Home and The Only Way Through Is Through, plus his recent Love, B, served as a brilliant tribute to Wood, who died May 28, at age 53.
Wood selected the program and had been rehearsing with the company. Amazingly, the producers and dancers decided to soldier on in his memory; the memorial would be a celebration of his work. No speeches, no big to-do; just the art.
Interestingly, the show followed the stages of grief.
In his haunting Home (1997), set to Faure’s Requiem, the curtain opens to five dancers in all-white, standing in a line, as another (Albert Drake) perches on a rope suspended from the rafters.
They first move slowly, gracefully changing positions in the line, then break out into Wood’s lovely pairings of dancers. There is sorrow and some disbelief, and Drake finally makes his way “home.” That the dancers, in this work and the others, exhibit such focus and resolve is astonishing.
After denial comes anger, and what better example than with The Only Way Through Is Through (1998), set to Philip Glass music. When it builds up to the Akhnaten movement, the dancers, all in black, show off their athleticism with some of Wood’s signature fast and furious moves, from frog leaps to snaking chains that will be broken as dancers crash through the clasped hands of others.
It’s almost tribal in its raw, fearless emotion. The dancers’ heavy breathing adds to the intensity.
Touch (2014) is listed as “unfinished,” but what’s there is breathtaking. Again set to Glass music and in five movements, the piece’s dancers are desperate to touch something — a wall, a platform, each other. The urgency is palpable. But one dancer (the exquisitely expressive Nycole Ray) is the outsider who won’t let herself be touched.
Movement is mostly slow and methodical, yet organic. Is Wood addressing his own longtime health issue — he was HIV positive, which involved several changes of drug regimens — and that he outlived so many in a dance community devastated by AIDS in the 1980s and early ’90s? There is questioning, but some things we’re not meant to completely understand.
If that sounds deeply emotional, Wood was also a master of humor and wit, and his jaunty Love, B, set mostly to popular song standards of love, longing and relationship-testing, proves it. The piece was created for Ann Williams, the retiring founding artistic director of Dallas Black Dance Theatre.
It’s lighthearted and delightful. The dancers, as they were all night, were in fine form. Drake exhibits his physical comedy prowess and rubbery limbs in the “The Very Thought of You” segment.
After sorrow, denial, anger, the message in Love, B is ultimately of acceptance and the need to find happiness.
It’s celebratory, just as any memorial of someone who was so respected and loved should be.