The futurist art form where the materials are muscles, legs, hearts and heads
by KAYLAH BURTON
In the imitable words of author Oscar Wilde, “Life imitates Art far more than Art imitates Life.” Wilde believed that an artist could create works that deeply affect the human psyche—so much so that the audience could begin to envision a future idealized through art. Undoubtedly, he was correct. Art has long been a conduit for social change: It is used to challenge society’s deepest assumptions and biases by bringing diversity and change center stage. As the century evolves, the Dallas art scene—visual and performing—is at the forefront of this movement. The form embodying it? Dance. Here, a trio of professional dance companies, old and new, leading the charge.
Long a cornerstone in the Dallas arts community, Dallas Black Dance Theatre is the oldest continuously operating professional dance company in Dallas and, says its artistic director April Berry, the only minority organization in the Arts District to this day.
The company, founded in 1976 by Ann Williams, has grown from its humble beginning as a community-based, semiprofessional organization into a world-renowned professional dance company. Despite its growth, though, the company’s focus on access, inclusion and education remains. After more than 38 years leading the company, Williams stepped down in May 2014, and Berry, master teacher and former principal dancer with the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, took the reins as the company’s new artistic director.
Berry wishes to continue the legacy that Williams built, while leaving her own mark. “My mission is to elevate the organization to the next level,” Berry says, “to look at the company’s first 38 years and to revisit, to edit and to revise. This company is only going to grow and grow and continue telling the stories that are seldom told.”
Catch the dance company in its final performance ofthe season,“Spring Fiesta,” May 15 to17 at the Wyly Theatre. dbdt.com
Precision, thoughtfulness, intent. These are just a few of the words that Kimi Nikaidoh of Bruce Wood Dance Project uses to describe the work of founder and artistic director Bruce Wood. Operating as Bruce Wood Dance Company from 1996 to 2007, the dance troupe was revived as Bruce Wood Dance Project in 2011, after a three-year hiatus. At the height of the company’s arc, in June 2014, Wood died of complications from pneumonia at age 53.
Nikaidoh, one of Wood’s early muses, now acts as artistic director for the company. For her, implementing Wood’s vision for the company is what matters most. “I prefer the title acting artistic director,” she says. “Everything I’m working with right now Bruce started and created. The support the BWDP has from the community, the fan base, has all been generated by him.”
Wood may have left the world far too soon, but he left the dance community—and his company— with a strong, lasting voice. “The combination of visual satisfaction and emotional depth is so unusual,” Nikaidoh says. “It literally would seem to be a tragedy to have his work go dormant.”
To keep that work alive, the current company of 15 dancers is relying on the large, tight-knit community that Wood created, calling in past company members from1996 to the present to catalog, recover and restage Wood’s extensive collection of more than 80 dance works. Wood touched not only the lives of his dancers but of his audiences. “People who saw Bruce’s work were reminded of what is beautiful about being a human being, what is painful about being a human being,” Nikaidoh says. “His ballets were encouraging or enlightening, and sometimes both things mixed into the same piece.”
Upcoming performances by the BruceWood Dance Project include the TITAS Presents: Command Performance Gala attheWinspear Opera House on May 16;the full-length company production “5 Years” on June 19 and 20 at Dallas City Performance Hall; and “A Gathering,” August 28 at the Winspear Opera House.
In 2010, 31-year-old Joshua Peugh was unsatisfied. A graduate of SMU, Peugh found himself in Seoul, South Korea, after taking a position with Universal Ballet Theater. After several years, he became frustrated with the limitations and harshness of the Korean professional dance world. So he and his best friend, Cho Hyun Sang, decided to launch Dark Circles Contemporary Dance. The name is a nod to the dark under-eye circles they would get from staying up late working—skipping out on sleep for artistic fulfillment not found elsewhere.
After spending six years in South Korea, Peugh returned to his hometown of Dallas and opened a North Texas offshoot with 10 new dancers. Eager to step outside the conventions of concert dance, Peugh is making dance accessible to young and unconventional audiences by emphasizing authentic, human connections through it. “The most basic form of human communication is movement,” he says, “which we don’t need training to understand. People innately understand when someone is angry, when someone is uncomfortable, when someone is mad—you know these things, it’s simple. Making dance speak that way, in a human way, immediately makes it accessible to everyone.”
Peugh also uses music to reach his audience, setting his work to popular tunes from the likes of Hall & Oates (“Maneater”) and James Brown (“It’s a Man’s Man’s Man’s World”). Dark Circles performs in intimate spaces that break the traditional audience-to-dancer relationship, which is usually separated by the proscenium stage. While many choreographers envision a company in dance capitals such as New York or Los Angeles, Peugh sees greatness in Dallas and wouldn’t think of moving the 2-year-old branch of Dark Circles anywhere else. “The possibilities here are kind of endless,” Peugh says, “if we can rearrange our idea of what it is that we are capable of here, and stop importing things and understand that there are things being built and created in this very city.”
Upcoming national performances include the BarnstormDance Festin Houston, May 28 to 30, and the renowned Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival Inside/Out Series in Becket, Massachusetts, on August 5.
KAYLAH BURTON is a dancer and a recent graduate of the SMU Meadows School of the Arts. She is living, dancing and writing in New York City.