Gayle Halperin is a former professional dancer and the administrative force behind Bruce Wood Dance since 2010. She is also the newest member of the MMIAM program’s International Advisory Committee. Laura Adlers interviewed her recently to learn more about Bruce Wood Dance and her role there.
Who was Bruce Wood and how was Bruce Wood Dance formed?
Bruce Wood was the heart and soul of Bruce Wood Dance. He was a Texan, raised in Fort Worth, so after going off and establishing his career as a professional dancer, he returned to Fort Worth in his 30s and formed the Bruce Wood Dance Company, presenting its seasons out of Bass Performance Hall. He was the Artistic Director and sole choreographer, so he was creating new works specifically for the company all the time. He was very successful, the company was touring nationally. However, as the company continued to grow, funding the company became more challenging and it ended up folding in 2007.
He had made great strides with the company. They were performing four shows a year, building a new dance audience, so when the company folded there was a big gap, there was nothing comparable happening in the region. I went to speak with him and asked if he would consider beginning a new version of the company in Dallas called Bruce Wood Dance Project. This was in 2010, around the time the Dallas Arts District, the Winspear Opera House, and the Wyly Theatre had just opened. Bruce was intrigued and appreciative of the support coming from the Dallas Arts District and started to create new works for Dallas Black Dance Theatre and the dance program at the Booker T. Washington High School for the Performing and Visual Arts. We were bringing Bruce Wood Dance back to life one project at a time.
In 2014, Bruce died unexpectedly and, in spite of this terrible loss, the Board of Directors decided they wanted to continue, to keep Bruce’s dance company alive and growing, so here we are today! We changed the name in 2017 to Bruce Wood Dance, at the suggestion of an agent we hired to represent us for touring and promotion.
I understand you have volunteered your services to the organization from the very beginning. Who else works with you at the company?
I started out with Bruce as his business partner, and have volunteered my time and expertise in an administrative role to this day. For the longest time, it was just Bruce and I running the organization, but I just got the official title of Executive Director last year! In fact, I am in a position to also help fund the operations of the organization, and we now have two staff members – a Development Manager and an Operations Manager. Our creative director who creates our branding and marketing collateral has been with us from the beginning. On the artistic team, we have an Artistic Director, an Artistic Advisor, a Rehearsal Director, and ten dancers – five men and five women.
What distinguishes Bruce Wood Dance from other dance companies in America?
Our mission is to harness the power of dance, to entertain, enrich and heal through all of our programs, whether they are educational outreach classes, mainstage productions, or collaboration with other Dallas arts organizations. Bruce created productions about emotional experiences that are common to our humanity and one of his many gifts was his ability to tap into the nuances of a broad range of emotions – from something that is very funny to a very intimate experience to loneliness and profound grief. His motto was “less is more”; he did not like melodrama. For him, it was about simplicity and honing a creative idea down to the essence. He believed that every audience member should be able to watch a dance performance and know what the dance was about. So we continue to perform his work, but also commission new works with choreographers who share his esthetic.
Tell us about some of your outreach programs.
We launched our first outreach dance program with the Nexus Recovery Centre, which is a facility that provides rehabilitation and housing for women who are suffering from addiction and domestic abuse. We started teaching classes there in 2014 and now teach two classes a week for most of the year. The healing aspect of dance is so important there.
When we started working at Nexus, we also provided complimentary tickets to the women we were working with and we would often have about 30 of them at our shows. This was so successful that we decided to extend this offer to a wide range of groups, from social service organizations and their clients to the Girl Scouts to middle school students! In total, we now provide about 250 tickets to the weekend productions (in a 750 capacity theatre), with the goal of making dance accessible to everyone, especially to those who may not be able to attend on their own or who may never have experienced a dance performance before.
Why do you think the specific study of international arts management is important for the profession and for the cultural sector?
We are such a global community these days that it is so important to understand how the arts work in other parts of the world. We are developing very strong relationships with international dance groups and moving beyond local interaction. This provides more opportunities and growth for the organization, so it is so important to understand the dynamics and necessary skills for managing the arts on a global scale.
What specific qualities do you look for when you are hiring an arts manager that are unique to the industry?
First and foremost, passion for and understanding about dance. You can certainly learn about it, but dance doesn’t receive the same level of funding as other disciplines, so it is really essential to have someone who is well connected and passionate about the dance industry and able to talk about and sell dance. You also need lots of energy and imagination and drive!
What are some of your future plans for Bruce Wood Dance?
I would really love for us to tour more in the future, across the United States and beyond. Last year, we toured quite a bit. We performed at Jacob’s Pillow last July, which was a big milestone, but to date,we have primarily toured throughout Texas. We have an agent now, so are hoping our touring activity will increase in the near future.