"Everyone asks me what kind of dancing we do. If you asked a ballet dancer what I do, he would say that it is modern dance. If you asked a modern dancer what I would, he would say that it is ballet. I feel that at the edge of each type of dance they intersect a little. Where they intersect is the fertile ground for the new. Hopefully, that is where this dance company lives: in the place between places."
That quote, which comes from a program note written at the beginning of the seventh season of the Bruce Wood Dance Company (2003), seems to be the most concise definition of late choreographer Bruce Wood's aesthetic. He wanted to create works that were classic in their narratives and simple in their gestures to reach audiences at their emotional cores. He was successful in that endeavor, and as his company continues his work, that statement rings far truer than it ever has before.
With "Bruce Wood: A Retrospective" at the Arlington Museum of Art we get a glimpse into the place that Wood once occupied and the places that his company might go from here. The exhibition celebrates the career of the Fort Worth native and his two companies: the Bruce Wood Dance Company (BWDC, 1996-2007) and the Bruce Wood Dance Project (BWDP, 2011-now). Curated by the museum's executive director Chris Hightower, who was a friend of Wood's and a longtime patron of Wood's companies -- the exhibit features more than 100 photographs by Loli Kantor, Brian Guilliaux, Sharen Bradford, Jennifer Fermaint, Kevin Chung and JIRARD, costume designs by John Ahrens, and props by Debbie Barr and Steven Truitt. It also includes production ephemera such as posters, playbills and programs, and projections of videoed performances. Wood created over 80 compositions throughout his career and this exhibit explores the contributions he made and the movement vocabulary he started to create.
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This retrospective joins a recent group of similar retrospectives, most notably Xavier Le Roy's exhibition at MoMA PS1. Titled Retrospective, French choreographer Le Roy's exhibition, which opened in New York in September 2014 (and first occurred in Barcelona in 2012), gathered together work he created from 1994 to 2010 to reframe the idea of what a retrospective can be. The MoMA PS1 exhibition took over three of the museum's galleries to give the viewers three different entry points into Le Roy's work. The first gallery housed live performers who either danced looped variations of Le Roy's solos, or stood frozen like sculptures. They also would tell stories about their time with Le Roy. The second gallery housed archival videos -- and there were two performers there to talk to viewers about the work they were watching. The third gallery was kept dark and viewers were given flashlights to illuminated and to discover the secret hidden within: the room was filled with dummies that were built for Le Roy's 2005 work, "Untitled," which was originally presented in the dark. While this exhibition was based on a performative aspect, and was created specifically for an art institution, not a theater, it raised profound questions about the intersection of dance and visual art: How can a static presentation of dance affect a viewer? How can a presentation of dance in a "high art" institution change our understanding of what dance is? If we are allowed to spend more time with dance, the dancer and the choreographer, what will we take away from the art form?
The fact that these types of shows raise these sorts of questions is what makes them so important. They draw awareness to an otherwise secluded art form. It allows a wider audience to take an intimate view into the lives of these choreographers, and gives visual art institutions a new way to embrace dance. Additionally, museums have been looking for ways to break open the rigid structures that have historically been in place, and dance might just be one avenue to do so. This exhibition at the Arlington Museum of Art is a huge step forward for the unification of dance and the visual art scene in Dallas, and it speaks to foresight of Hightower.
The private opening on Friday, January 9, pulled in nearly 100 people and treated them to viewings of posters and photographers from the freshman and sophomore seasons of BWDC, and a variety of props. Highlights included a video viewing room in the upstairs gallery with archival footage and a tricycle built by Danny Curry for "Happy Feet" (2011). The evening concluded with a live performance of selected works at nearby Miss Persis Studio of Dance.
The exhibition runs now until February 15 at the Arlington Museum of Art, 201 W. Main St., Arlington. 817-275-4600. Free.