Friend. Brilliant choreographer. Tenacious. Humorous. A fighter. Stubborn. Advocate for dance. Committed. Collaborator.
There are not words to adequately and appropriately describe the man who helped to usher in this new era of dance in Dallas. Bruce Wood was a tidal force in the city's culture, a man born to dance and create. At 16 he left his home in Fort Worth to go to New York and study with George Balanchine at the School of American Ballet. He went on to dance with the New York City Ballet, San Francisco Ballet and Les Ballet Jazz de Montréal. Yet Wood never forgot where he came from; Texas wooed him back bring a level of dance that we are all trying to model ourselves after.
In 1996, while living in Austin, he formed the Bruce Wood Dance Project, and one year later moved the company to Fort Worth renaming it the Bruce Wood Dance Company (BWDC). I remember watching the first iteration of his company perform while I was attending the University of Texas at Arlington. Many of the dancers and I who were a part of the UTA Dance Ensemble would mark our calendars and buy our tickets as far in advance as we could to make sure we didn't miss one of his shows. When the company folded, it was a huge loss for the North Texas dance community, but Bruce didn't give up. He kept on working, and one of the pieces that I believed re-launched him into the choreographic hemisphere was "Surrender," a solo he set on Emily Hunter of the then Texas Dance Theatre.
It was simple. It was beautiful. It was haunting. Surrounded by a pool of fallen autumn leaves, Hunter gracefully gave herself over to nature. With each extension of her arm, of her leg, the delicate flick of her wrist, she called us forward to join her. We did. We all fell a little more in love with Bruce's choreography at that moment. A few years later, he was back on the scene with a group of 15 dancers, support from the Dance Council and Gayle Halperin, and a premiere show that had so much promise from just the first rehearsal alone.
Thus, was born the Bruce Wood Dance Project (BWDP). That was in 2011, and that was the first time I met Bruce. It was June and I was invited to come and preview their upcoming premiere performance. The space was intimate; the dances even more so. He exuded a nervous energy as he spoke about his work, bounced around the room, playing the music and cueing the dancers. When we finally got a moment to talk, he relaxed in his chair and I got see a different side of the genius. A side full of laughter, a man who greets a stranger with a hug and talked about anything and everything. And he just wanted to make beautiful, everlasting work, like his commission for Dallas Black Dance Theatre, The Edge of My Life So Far, during which Nycole Ray danced on and around a wooden table as "dust" covered her body and filled the air creating an ethereal landscape.
As we in the Dallas dance community are reeling from his passing, we have started to band together to celebrate his life. Because that is what Bruce would have wanted. He was a true believer in the testament that the show must go on. And life must go.
To begin the healing process, members of the Dallas dance community have started to talk, expressing their love and respect for the man who helped ignite the Dallas performance art scene.
"Bruce was my friend, my colleague, and one of my inspirations. We've known each other since the early '90s, and I've always been in awe of his creative genius in putting together beautifully crafted choreography. He was tough in the studio and a genius on stage. Bruce was a major collaborator in the creation of A Gathering in 2011 and 2013 and helped make those AIDS benefits so beautiful and moving. He leaves a great void in our cultural community. I can't believe he's gone." -- Charles Santos, executive director of TITAS
"Like few others, Bruce's work cuts to the quick of one's soul. Each of us was touched by his simplicity, honesty, and humanity. Each of us feel the hollowness of his loss." -- Linda James of Booker T. Washington High School of the Performing and Visual Arts
"What a cheeky upstart Bruce was. Virtually unknown in the dance community when he brought his little company to perform at Tarrant County Convention Center [in 1997], he immediately made his mark. That he could fill a theater as large as the Convention Center was a miracle, but the real miracle was Bruce himself and the company he created. In that debut program, aptly called The Intercession of Grace, Bruce showed then and there what a formidable talent he had, and the years since then have only intensified my first impression -- that he was a man with a rare and incandescent talent. I have reviewed just about every work Bruce has created since then, and as a friend and critic I am devastated to realize that he is gone. He leaves a huge gap in the Dallas and Fort Worth dance community, and no one can replace him." -- Margaret Putnam, dance critic currently with TheaterJones.com
"As an artist, Bruce had an incredible talent to create in dance what was real and inherent in all of us. Beauty. Flaws. Humanity. As a friend and mentor, he taught me how to trust. Trust the movement. Trust others. Trust in the work. Or simply, just trust." -- Joy Atkins, Bruce Wood dancer from 2002-2006, and 2011-present
"Dance is the strangest art form, but Bruce Wood made it feel familiar. In Bruce's work, the dancers are people with feelings trying to connect with each other just like the rest of us. Combine that sensitivity with the structure and musicality of his teacher George Balanchine and the jazziness of his predecessor Twyla Tharp -- then add Bruce's obsession with the sense of touch -- and you begin to have what made him so special. His death leaves a gaping hole in the local dance scene." -- Manny Mendoza, dance critic with The Dallas Morning News
"This is a huge loss for the entire arts community and the BTW Dance Family. He is a friend and supporter of our students and we as a community will be deprived of his brilliant work. He drew people together and was central to the rebirth of dance in Dallas. I am so grateful for our conversations on dance, art, and education along with sharing our frustrations about sustaining dance in the community. His work was pure and reached the masses and touched the soul in many ways." -- Lily Weiss of Booker T. Washington High School of the Performing and Visual Arts
"As a choreographer, Bruce Wood's talent and artistry cannot be overstated. He was brilliant and fiercely original. It gave me some of the most vivid, beautiful images in 15 years of covering the DFW arts scene. But if you were lucky enough to know the man himself, outside of the studio or concert hall, he was a tremendously giving soul with a wicked sense of humor. I respected Bruce Wood, the man, as much as I admired his work." -- Mark Lowry, founder and editor of TheaterJones.com
"Words can never explain the kind of relationships that are built and deepened by the creative process. Bruce was a friend and a peer. We spent hours together sharing ideas and frustrations about the works we were creating or rehearsing. He challenged and encouraged me. I will carry his desire for excellence and authenticity with me always. I'm honored to be part of his legacy." -- Joshua Peugh, former Associate Choreographer for BWDP and founder and artistic director of Dark Circles Contemporary Dance
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"I am just one of many artists that Bruce has influenced, but I can say that he has had a strong impact on my own work. Each season, he gave me gifts. The first season, the gift was a dance that gave me hope and power during a personally tough time. The second season, he brought out beauty inside of me that I didn't know I possessed. The third season, he taught me the hard lessons of letting go and leadership, as I started to shift from performing to rehearsal directing for him. These all influence me today...To me, his work was a lovely vision of the world." -- Jennifer Mabus, former Bruce Wood Dance Project dancer
I think that the words of Christie Sullivan, former Bruce Wood Dance Company dancer, Wood's rehearsal director when the current BWDP started, and a fine arts faculty member at The Hockaday School, get very clearly to Wood's contribution to our community: "The legacy of Bruce's choreographic work must continue. I could not be more thankful to have known and worked with such a brilliant man. Those of us who danced for him became better artists, and I know he touched countless lives with his choreography. We are all better because we knew Bruce Wood."
And his work will live on. The Bruce Wood Dance Project will still stage their performance of TOUCH at 8 p.m.June 12 and 13 at the Dallas City Performance Hall.
Esteemed choreographer, friend, and master teacher Bruce Wood experienced complications from pneumonia and died of heart failure, with his family by his side, on Wednesday, May 28. His death was sudden and unexpected. He was 53. Wood is survived by his mother and two siblings. The family has asked that donations be made to the Bruce Wood Dance Project in lieu of flowers.