How the late Bruce Wood set the stage for DFW dance to flourish

By Rebecca ChristophersonMay 17, 2024June 10th, 2024No Comments

How the late Bruce Wood set the stage for DFW dance to flourish

By Charlotte Settle
Photo above by Christopher Duggan and courtesy of Bruce Wood Dance

On April 6, dance lovers across DFW convened at the Moody Performance Hall in Dallas, dressed to the nines, to celebrate the 14th anniversary of Bruce Wood Dance. A decade after his untimely passing, Wood’s legacy as a trailblazing choreographer and devoted advocate of his craft continues to leave an indelible mark.

Even after folding his dance company, Bruce Wood continued to choreograph for educational institutions and dance companies.
Photo courtesy of Bruce Wood Dance

The glamorous, golden age-themed concert commenced with Tony Award-nominated Broadway star NaTasha Yvette Williams singing spellbinding renditions of classics from the Great American Songbook. Wood’s beloved dance “Anything Goes,” set to the timeless tunes of Cole Porter, stole the show with its theatrical, cheeky and endearing antics. The program culminated with Twyla Tharp’s “Nine Sinatra Songs,” a series of sweeping duets on the nuances of love.

As the final curtain closed, the packed crowd erupted into a thunderous standing ovation, a testament to the Bruce Wood dancers’ unmatched virtuosity and captivating storytelling. Select patrons celebrated late into the evening at a VIP gala, benefiting the company with a live auction and tables priced up to $10,000.

The magnitude of the 14th anniversary event is a testament to Wood’s enduring artistry. His visionary repertoire encapsulates an astonishing range of emotions, from the dramatic and devastating to the compassionate and comedic. A genius of physical narrative, Wood created enriching and healing dances with universally resonant themes.

While his company has become a bastion of dance in Dallas, its story begins on the west side of the metroplex. Born in Fort Worth in 1960, Wood grew up training at the Gayle Corkery School of Ballet. At 16, he received a scholarship to study at the prestigious School of American Ballet under the revolutionary choreographer George Balanchine. Wood went on to have an illustrious performing career with esteemed dance companies throughout the U.S. and abroad, from New York City Ballet to Les Ballets Jazz de Montréal.

In 1996, Wood returned to his roots, establishing the original Bruce Wood Dance Co. in Fort Worth. Joy Bollinger, the current artistic director, first saw the troupe perform while she was studying dance at TCU. At the time, Wood still performed with his dancers.

“I had never seen somebody move with such freedom and abandon; I was captivated,” she said.

In 2002, after graduating from college, Bollinger eagerly accepted an offer to join the company and has been a proud ambassador of Wood’s work ever since.

Bruce Wood production of “Echoes of Enchantment.” Photo by Sharen Bradford and courtesy of Bruce Wood Dance

Wood’s magnetic presence and inventive choreographic voice made the Fort Worth company a resounding success. The group regularly toured throughout the U.S. and performed four times per year at Bass Hall, attracting audiences from all over the region. The company’s Fort Worth tenure marked an era of prolific creation for Wood, during which he amassed roughly 60 dances in his body of work.

In 2007, following a triumphant decade, a combination of economic strife and burnout led Wood to make the difficult decision to fold his company. Still, he remained steadfast in his dedication to his work. In the following years, he continued to choreograph for many prominent educational institutions and dance companies — and though he no longer had an organization of his own, his audiences remained faithful.

In 2010, Gayle Halperin — a Dallas-based dance educator, prolific arts donor and unwavering fan of Wood’s work — nominated him for the Dance Council of North Texas Mary McLarry Bywaters Award for Lifetime Contribution to Dance. Despite Wood’s initial reluctance to accept, she wouldn’t take “no” for an answer — and even convinced him to choreograph a new work for the ceremony. 

That October, Wood accepted the award and presented Halperin’s commission in front of his first official Dallas audience. When the piece ended and a palpable buzz of excitement came over the crowd, Halperin saw an opportunity. She asked Wood if she could help him produce a full-length concert in Dallas, offering to run the administrative side and giving him full artistic license. Wood agreed, and to this day, Halperin considers that monumental award ceremony to be the first official performance of the Dallas-based company.

Over the next several months, Wood assembled a medley of dancers from SMU and Booker T. Washington High School for the Performing and Visual Arts — as well as veterans from his former company, including Bollinger. Eager to be in Wood’s orbit, the dedicated group rehearsed in the evenings after long days of work and school. Bollinger, the head of the Arlington Heights High School dance department at the time, commuted from Fort Worth to Dallas every night to support the process.

Bruce Wood’s production, “Rhapsody in Blue”. Photo by Sharen Bradford and courtesy of Bruce Wood Dance

In summer 2011, the newly formed Dallas-based company made its debut, presenting a combination of Wood’s beloved fan favorites and new dances. “Everyone he knew showed up, including his Fort Worth audience and board of directors, thrilled to see what he was going to do next,” Halperin said.

Thanks to the loyalty of the dancers and an outpouring of support from patrons, Wood’s and Halperin’s one-off project blossomed into an established entity with increasing performance opportunities year over year.

Unburdened by administrative headaches, Wood enjoyed another period of pivotal artistry — creating roughly 20 more works, several of which were lauded as revolutionary. His heart-wrenching 2012 piece, “I’m My Brother’s Keeper,” explores issues of acceptance, anger and bonding within relationships between men.

“He was the first person in our region to create an all-male work about intimacy and romantic relationships,” Halperin said. 

In 2014, Wood’s untimely death shocked and devastated everyone who knew him. Though heartbroken, his army of dancers, friends, family and patrons came together to uphold his artistic vision. Under the interim direction of Wood’s longtime dancer Kimi Nikaidoh, and later Bollinger, the company has not only preserved the integrity of Wood’s work, but also brought his name back to national prominence.

In the years since Wood’s passing, the Dallas-based Bruce Wood Dance has expanded its repertoire and visibility with commissions from nationally acclaimed choreographers. The group has started touring again, performing on renowned stages from coast to coast, and was one of eight companies nationwide selected to perform at The Joyce Theater in New York in early 2020. An ensemble of powerhouse performers, Bruce Wood Dance has also been named “Best Dance Company” by D Magazine not once, not twice — but six times.

Beyond delighting audiences nationwide, Bruce Wood Dance is deeply committed to bolstering the art form in DFW. Company members not only train high school and college students all over the region, but they also teach free weekly classes at Nexus Recovery Center, Mosaic Family Services and Heart House Dallas.

Bruce Wood’s “Anything Goes”. Photo by Natalie Bracken and courtesy of Bruce Wood Dance

Fueled by the belief that everyone should experience the transformative power of dance, the company offers hundreds of complimentary tickets to every show for students and underserved communities. By taking every opportunity to nurture the region through the arts, the company is actively cultivating the next generation of dancers and patrons.

The dance program at I.M. Terrell Academy of STEM and VPA, created by Bollinger’s former Arlington Heights student Christen Reyes, is a product of Bruce Wood Dance’s impact. A fierce arts advocate, Reyes also founded the Fort Worth Dance Festival, providing a platform for students and educators to showcase their work and network with professional dancers.

At Reyes’ request, the company will present the inaugural Bruce Wood Dance Excellence Awards at the festival this September. Select students and teachers from local high schools and colleges will receive up to $1,000 for outstanding performances, choreography and dance education in Wood’s honor.

“We are thrilled to elevate and support the teachers and students who are shaping dance in DFW,” Bollinger said.

Wood once claimed that dance should shift consciousness — inspiring new perspectives and changing the lives of audiences.

“The echo of a performance should linger with you for days,” he said. Little did he know, the echo of his work would linger for decades, shaping the future of dance in DFW and beyond. 

“Bruce probably wouldn’t have ever understood how profound his impact was,” Bollinger said. “But when you create work like he did that reaches people on that level, all of this is the outcome.”


For information on upcoming performances and how to support Bruce Wood Dance, visit brucewooddance.org.