The mission of Bruce Wood Dance is to present high-caliber, original, contemporary choreography that
harnesses the power of dance as a tool for entertainment, enrichment, and healing. Fortified by Bruce Wood®’s
aesthetic, BWD produces and maintains his repertoire, commissions new work by resident choreographers and
guest dance-makers, and contributes to the quality of life in Dallas Fort Worth, Texas, and across the nation.
Bruce Wood Dance Company is a 501(c)3 non-profit arts organization. We are grateful for the support of our sponsors.
Bruce Wood is a registered trademark.
Cult of Brucenality
3 years after its namesake’s death, Bruce Wood Dance thrives in all-new ways
By Arnold Wayne Jones
Executive Editor I Dallas Voice
November 10, 2017
It is a few weeks before Rise, the new performance from Bruce Wood Dance is set to open, and the company’s producer, Gayle Halperin, is hosting one of her salons. Held before each show, it previews the works that will be presented and gets longtime patrons, recent donors and some newcomers a peek into the creative process. But this time, as she gives her usual pitch, she chokes up. Bruce Wood—the company’s founder and artistic director—died suddenly more than three years ago, and the pain of that loss still stings. But Halperin also realizes something while glancing at the current company: Not including the creative team, none of the dancers ever worked directly with Wood himself.
That resonates not only with Halperin, but with all those present. It’s a realization just how far the troupe has come against impossible odds.
Bruce Wood was already an established and respected dancer, choreographer and company founder when Halperin approached him, in 2010, to do “a project”—bring his talents back to North Texas stages for a recital. Initially, it was just going to be a one-off, but the success of it triggered an itch both had to scratch. The Bruce Wood Dance Project was born, and it completed three seasons before Wood succumbed to complications from AIDS just weeks before the start of its fourth season. Halperin and the remaining dancers soldiered on through that production, and decided to see if they could maintain it. Kimi Nikaidoh, who had danced with the defunct Bruce Wood Dance Company during its stint in Fort Worth, was tapped as artistic director; Wood protégés Joy Bollinger and Albert Drake were given leadership positions. And the company grew. And grew. Earlier this year, the word “project” was officially dropped — it was no longer a temporary enterprise, but a going concern in the artistic tapestry of North Texas. In addition to the two annual concerts, the company performs in festivals and with groups like the Turtle Creek Chorale. But growth also meant some dancers—who tend to have a finite career span anyway— moved on. And on this day last month, it occurred to Halperin that almost everyone dancing under the banner of “Bruce Wood” had never even met the man.
One sort-of exception was Nestor Leonardo Perez. His experience with Wood—which he told at the salon— was met with hushed respect. Perez began studying dance when he attended Texas Woman’s University in Denton in 2009. When he graduated, he auditioned in front of Wood . . . but was passed over for inclusion in the company at that time. But it didn’t end there.
Wood took him aside, Perez explained, and put his hand on his shoulder to give him advice and support. He encouraged the young man to keep at it. After Wood passed, Perez auditioned again; he is now in his third year as an apprentice with the company.
“Where I come from was very horrible,” Pérez, a native of the southern tropical region of Mexico, explained at the salon. “I was not accepted for who I was.” Wood was an inspiration and guiding light; not entering the company on his first audition wasn’t an impediment but a challenge to succeed. (For her part, Halperin expressed amazement at Perez’s accomplishments and dedication.)
Two of the dances to be performed at Rise—The Only Way Through Is Through (originally from 1998) and Lay Your Burdens Down (performed only once before, and now making its Dallas debut)—were original Wood works; the third is a world premiere, Hillside, created by Bollinger, who cannot help but be influenced by her mentor. The pieces themselves continue Wood’s legacy, but it’s in the dedication and commitment of dancers who never worked with Wood that his spirit remains.
Arnold Wayne Jones is executive editor for the Dallas Voice.
Bruce Wood Dance prepares for the physically taxing elements in Joy Atkins Bollinger’s Hillside, part of the company’s Rise performance this weekend.
By Katie Dravenstott I TheaterJones.com
November 15, 2017
Against what will be a backlit stage, Kimi Nikaidoh slowly walks across the space in Bruce Wood Dance’s (BWD) main studio with a pensive expression on her face. Her left arm habitually reaches out to brush across the other dancers’ feet, which are swaying haphazardly as the dancers lay prone on a sloping 32-foot-long 5-foot-wide replica of a hillside made of dense Styrofoam and reinforced with half inch plywood. As Nikaidoh moves further downstage, the dancers start a series of quick lower body exercises, including flex and pointed toes, turned out feet and crisscrossing legs, which they perform in tandem as well as off time. Even without the lighting this image is striking thanks to the dancers’ simplistic movements, which stir up a wealth of emotion, and are also recurring themes in choreographer Joy Atkins Bollinger’s new work, Hillside, for the BWD’s Rise performance this weekend.
Bollinger began her dance training at the age of 7 at the Fort Worth School of Ballet with Victoria Fedine and Paul Mejia. During her time there she performed in productions of The Nutcracker and Cinderella with the Fort Worth Ballet Company. She eventually was invited to the Cedar Island Summer Intensive for two consecutive years where she lived and studied with Suzanne Farrell, who was one of George Balanchine’s muses at the New York City Ballet during the 1960s and ’70s. After graduating from Texas Christian University with a B.F.A. in ballet, Bollinger joined the Bruce Wood Dance Company (BWDC) in 2002. She worked with BWDC for four years while also dancing as a guest artist for Irving Ballet, Metropolitan Classical Ballet and Madison Ballet. Today, Bollinger is an artistic associate with Dallas-based Bruce Wood Dance where she is restaging Wood’s works and starting to make some of her own, including Carved In Stone, which was her first full-length dance for BWD and was met with critical acclaim at the company’s SIX performance last year.
The Dallas Morning News
After her stunning choreographic debut, Joy Atkins Bollinger is back—and still thinking, ‘Go harder or go home’
By Manuel Mendoza
Special Contributor I The Dallas Morning News
November 13, 2017
No one, not even Joy Atkins Bollinger herself, could have anticipated the reaction to her first major choreographic work, Carved in Stone. Ending in a series of waves that swept 23 leaping, tumbling dancers across the stage as if drawn together by a magnetic field, the piece made the top of every local list of best dance performances of 2016.
Now the 39-year-old Aledo native is back with a follow-up that doesn’t back away from the pressure she says she felt after the success of Carved. Seen in a recent run-through, Hillside goes for broke, swirling with the same kind of physical and emotional power that marked her stunning debut as a professional dance-maker.
“I can hear Bruce saying, ‘Go harder or go home,’ ” Bollinger explains, referring to the intensity of one of her mentors, the late Bruce Wood. “I promised that next time there will be no set and just a few people. I’ll chill out.”
Hillside premieres Nov. 17-18 in Rise, the fall program of Bruce Wood Dance. Bollinger is the company’s rehearsal director and répétiteur, teaching the late Wood’s works to the rest of the group. She danced in both his old Fort Worth-based troupe and the current Dallas company, which has carried on under the direction of dancer-choreographer Kimi Nikaidoh since Wood died in 2014.
After Wood’s passing, Nikaidoh and Albert Drake III became the group’s first in-house choreographers. Bollinger threw her hat in the ring, too. She had come up with the concept for Carved, inspired by the birth of her son and her observation that people sometimes get stuck in the way they process new information.
“I enjoy seeing pathways through space, and I really enjoy when it’s connected and continuous,” Bollinger says of her budding style during an interview at the Bruce Wood Dance Gallery. “That’s a Bruce thing — keep the movement fluid by sending the dancers in the direction they’re already going. When you’re layering people, it helps create a natural path.”
The idea for Hillside started with an image stuck in her head, even before she knew she was next up in the rotation. “I first pictured this slope with legs swaying on it like grass in the wind, and a figure walking past and brushing the legs,” Bollinger says. “I quickly told Kimi it would involve a bit of a set.”
To accommodate her vision, the company built a 32-foot-long, 5-foot-deep landscape out of dense foam. It features two hills of different sizes with a valley in-between. Hillside opens with 10 dancers atop the set on their backs, their legs sticking skyward. Then Nikaidoh walks through the scene looking distressed.
The action surges and recedes in circular patterns to clips from soundtrack music by Nicholas Britell and other film composers. In one section, the dancers violently flail and Nikaidoh becomes lodged in a web of bodies. In other scenes, the performers extend their limbs while squatting close the ground and lift one other high above their heads.
Bollinger says she was thinking of life’s trials. She tells the story of a customer she regularly waited on in a downtown Fort Worth restaurant when she was a member of the Bruce Wood Dance company. When he returned after a years-long absence, she didn’t recognize him. He had lost his job and family after accidentally hitting a pedestrian with his car. “It snowballed,” she says. “One event had derailed his entire life.”
The hillside became a metaphor for sudden change: “It could be beautiful, or it could be in a storm and slippery and dangerous. How do you come out on the other side?”
Bollinger can’t remember a time when she wasn't thinking this way. With a composer-musician father and a mother who had trained in dance, she grew up around the arts.
From age 7 through high school, she studied at the Fort Worth School of Ballet with Victoria Fedine and former New York City Ballet dancer Paul Mejia, a disciple of George Balanchine. Her older sister, Sarah Atkins Morris, was a company member in the Mejia-led Fort Worth Ballet, the predecessor to today’s Texas Ballet Theater.
“It was hardcore, and I thought that was the standard,” she says. “I was going to be a Balanchine ballerina.”
As a student, she performed in The Nutcracker and Cinderella and spent two summers in New York under the tutelage of ballet legend Suzanne Farrell, another freak for detail. “Her coaching would get to the level of where your eyes needed to go.”
But the Fort Worth Ballet closed before Bollinger graduated. She had considered skipping college and turning pro right out of high school but decided to earn a dance degree from Texas Christian University. Her move toward modern dance started when she saw Wood’s physically challenging RED at Bass Performance Hall. “I said, ‘I want to do that.’ ”
Again following her sister, who briefly danced for Wood, she auditioned and was asked to join in 2002. She had never had a conversation with the choreographer when she sensed he was becoming frustrated with her. She was accustomed to ballet taskmasters who demanded silent obedience, not a collaborator like Wood.
“He said, ‘Just dance,’” Bollinger recalls. “He wasn’t the director who wanted to see you just please him. He wanted to see you enjoy the movement and let it fulfill you. He wanted you to dance like a human instead of this posturing figure.”
Her breakthrough came in Wood’s next piece, Home, which he had said he created to bring company members closer together. “He asked, ‘How would you hold someone if you were caring from them, not pretending to care for them?’”
Tall and lithe, Bollinger became an expressive dancer with the clean lines of her ballet training but without a hint of attention-grabbing flashiness. Maybe she was saving that for her choreography.
Manuel Mendoza, a freelance writer and a former staff critic, covers dance for The Dallas Morning News.
Review: Rise I Bruce Wood Dance
On the Hillside
For Bruce Wood Dance, Joy Atkins Bollinger delivers another stunning premiere with Hillside, beautifully complementing two of Wood’s works.
By Margaret Putnam I TheaterJones.com
November 22, 2017
By mixing in a little Disney-fairytale brilliance you might have some idea of what hit you with Joy Bollinger’s stunning Hillside. And then, maybe not.
If there was one wee shortcoming to this imaginative dance performed Friday and Saturday night at Moody Performance Hall as the closing work of Bruce Wood Dance’s Rise, it was too short. Those sweeping, up-in-the-air lifts! Those swirling patterns as dancers fan out! Those desperate attempts to escape!
Talk about the influence of Bruce Wood®—Hillside was one heady rush of striking, gorgeous movement that you wish would never end. Beyond the pure aesthetic display of grace, however, Hillside offers a tantalizing tale of danger and rescue with, at its center, one terrific character.
Ms. Bollinger coaxed Kimi Nikaidoh, who is now the company’s artistic director, to play the role of a musing, dreamy girl who wanders on a hillside and encounters all sorts of trials and tribulations. The music comes right out of Hollywood.
The hillside—an abstract dense-foam construction 32-feet long and five-feet deep of rolling, dipping planes designed by Bollinger’s architect brother—serves as the launching pad for all the action. The ballet opens with dancers nestled in a curving slope, the only thing visible are legs that stick skyward. Twenty legs sway in the breeze. Ms. Nikaidoh wanders in, brushing the legs/wheat stalks. When she reaches the edge of the hill, she slumps into a twilight sleep.
Then the action turns from dream to nightmare with our dreamer entangled by those limbs she has so casually touched, desperately trying to break free. She’s rescued by woodland creatures in outfits of mottled leaves, attacked again by creepy, crawling monsters, fights them off with help from the woodland creatures, and with one grand, desperate act, runs the length of the hill and leaps off.
The scenes rush by at a breathtaking pace, fairly tripping over each other, with a few slow and ominous moments: in one, lighting and thunder rip over a brooding, empty land; in another, high up on the hill, monsters twist and writhe. (Tony Tucci is responsible for the stunning lighting; Nathaniel Atkins for set illustration and Carlos Nicholls and Roberto Riesco for set construction.)
The most stunning scene takes place when the stage fills with dancers on the ground and atop the hill swirling and sweeping and shooting skyward, looking like airplanes swooping daringly low. In the midst of this, our heroine flits in and out, reveling in the surging stream.
As for Ms. Nikaidoh, not only does she dance with willowy softness, she also projects such bare emotion that the tale goes beyond fanciful to something real and close to home.
We see a bright future for Ms. Bollinger (she made a stunning debut last year with Carved In Stone, a work that made the top of every local list of best dance performances of 2016), but we need not fear that Wood’s own works will lose any of their power. Ms. Nikaidoh and Ms. Bollinger as the company’s rehearsal director and répétiteur, respectively, have seen to that. Wood’s The Only Way Through Is Through, a driving, intense dance set to the equally driving music of Philip Glass, fairly boiled, while his Lay Your Burdens Down went in an entirely different direction, Zen-like in its quiet gravity.
The Only Way Through Is Through opens in silence, as seven dancers emerge lunging and stamping, hitting the floor with bare hands. In swiftly changing patterns, they move with ferocious energy, covering the stage in great gulps. Austin Sora breaks away, moving in snake like surges, then magically joins the others as they whiplash across the stage. That image is repeated by Akilah Brooks and then again by Emily Drake, the image of three indomitable women.
The work builds in dramatic intensity and at its height, we watch as each woman runs through a gauntlet of dancers. With great force, each breaks the stretched-out hands only to rejoin the line.
If the Only Way Through Is Through is linear, loud, reckless and sharp, Lay Your Burdens Down is as slow and quiet as melting ice. There are three shallow bowls spaced at distances around the stage; occasionally water drips from the ceiling. The dancers, clad in white with long dresses that fan out, touch and cradle each other gently, taking turn leaning over a bowl and catching water in their cupped hands. At the end, the dancers split apart, and as eight slowly sink to the floor, Kevin Pajarillaga leans over a bowl, looks up to the heavens and catches the falling water in his hand.
Like many of Wood’s poetic works, Lay Your Burdens Down asks tantalizing questions and creates a state of awe.
Bollinger says the inspiration for Hillside came from an image she kept seeing in her head of just a slope.
“I just couldn’t shake this image of an abstract hillside that looks like someone just took some marley and squished it from the sides so it just has a ripple in it,” Bollinger says. “And I could also see the dancers starting out with their legs in the air and a figure just walking by and brushing their hand against that.”
To bring this idea to life, Bollinger had her brother who happens to be an architectural engineer help her create an architectural file, which is what the Styrofoam factory referred to when cutting the material. From there the prop had to be assembled and then reinforced so the dancers would be able to run across and perform on it. “So the meat of it is actually a dense foam that weighs between 200 and 300 pounds that we then covered with a thin carpet and marley flooring.”
In addition to the even, smooth look on top, Bollinger also needed the prop to be light enough to slide around the stage, which the dancers do a couple of times throughout the piece. Bollinger explains that the prop begins up stage and will move to mid stage during Nikaidoh’s personal struggle before being shifted to a diagonal, which will represent Nikaidoh’s new perspective on life. She adds, “The first transition will have these flashes of light and as the music changes the downstage will be lit, but the upstage will be dark so all you can see is the front edge of the prop creeping into the light.”
If you had to opportunity to see Carved In Stone, you will be able to see some similarities between that piece and Hillside, most obviously Bollinger’s penchant for large casts and captivating stage design and lighting techniques. She has also taken a page out of Wood’s book with the use of understated movement and silky smooth partnering sections. Like Wood, Bollinger also relies heavily on instinct so that her movement always has a continuous flow to it, but keeps in context with the piece’s narrative and imagery.
This is most clearly seen in the large group section near the end when all 14 dancers run into the space, including three dancers on the hillside, to perform a breathtaking series of body arcs and under-curves, which Bollinger layers with balletic legs and textured arm movements to fast-paced instrumentals. With the use of creative pathways and musical timing, Bollinger avoids the clutter and chaos that generally comes with such large dance works; instead making smart choices that add more dimension and emotional depth to the already deeply empowering work.
And as for why Bollinger decided to work such a large cast she says, “There is just something so satisfying and fulfilling about seeing a lot of bodies on stage. The piece reads stronger with more bodies and the music is so big and powerful, and there are so many layers at the end that I just wanted there to be a moment where everyone can see the big picture.”
Hillside makes it premiere at Bruce Wood Dance’s RISE performance at Moody Performance Hall Nov. 17-18. The program also includes Wood’s Lay Your Burdens Down and The Only Way Through Is Through. This program will be dedicated to choreographer/instructor Kim Abel; and to former BWDC dancer Doug Hopkins, both of whom passed a way in recent months.
Katie Dravenstott is a freelance writer and dance instructor in Dallas. Visit her blog at kddance.wordpress.com.