Impressions of Ellis Woods' "The Juggler of Our Ladies"

Impressions of Ellis Woods' "The Juggler of Our Ladies"
Deirdre Towers/Follow @deirdre.towers on Instagram

By Deirdre Towers/Follow @deirdre.towers on Instagram
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Published on May 6, 2016
Photo: Alessandro Graziano

Date: April 29, 2016

Venue: Joe’s Pub

Choreography: Ellis Wood in collaboration with her performers

Dancers: Dexter Carlson, Ellen Graff, Caitlyn Johansen, Emily McDaniel, Stella Nakada, Marni Thomas, Ellis Wood

Film: Nancy Stevens

Writers: Fran Kirmser, Andrew Wnuk

Costumes: Naoko Nagata

Music: Daniel Bernard Roumain

Lighting: Lauren Parrish

Pictured above: L-R: Caitlyn Johansen, Ellis Wood, Dexter Carlson


The Juggler of Our Ladies is a tearjerker.  The first 3/4 of this production might leave one dry-eye, but the mounting evidence of a talented family inspiring each other to dance in their own inimitable way is touching.
The production begins with Ellen Graff, a white-haired lady with the charisma of a Vanessa Redgrave, groping her way through Joe’s Pub looking for her table, talking to herself and anyone who might listen. Settling at a table by the stage, she continues to muse while watching three dancers wearing black knee pads and burlesque outfits.
Marni Wood outstretches her hand which contains a small red rubber ball to Ellen Graf
Pictured L-R: Marni Thomas Wood and Ellen Graff. Photo: Alessandro Graziano
The wistful tone in Graff's commentary escalates as she sees her younger self through the performance of Stella Nakada, the graceful, poised, ten-year-old daughter of choreographer/dancer Ellis Wood. Hemmed in by a multi-jointed rod manipulated by the other dancers, Nakada has a brief moment to shine. Through the course of The Juggler of Our Ladies, Wood’s choreography alludes to emotional shifts, passing from innocence, rebellion, and struggles made tangible with straps bound around the dancers who tug and resist each other. When Wood appears, she jacks up the performance with her electric zaniness, in direct contrast to the nobility of her mother Marni Thomas. This grandmother flips ageism in her favor. She makes you yearn for her mastery of stillness and her compelling presence.
Ellis Wood crosses her legs at the knees and crouches over four red small rubber balls
Pictured: Ellis Wood; Photo: Alessandro Graziano
As though proving the point, the younger dancers then become ever more frantic, flopping like wild-haired desperadoes. Graff breaks their frenzy by saying, “Congratulations. You’ve made it.” That most desirable, if fantastical, declaration of a supportive ally leads shortly into the showing of a documentary film by Nancy Stevens (We Also Dance, I'm Taking Tango Lessons) with close-ups of the cast members' faces as they speak about their lives.
Wood’s strength is her concept and  performance. Once in the companies of Stephen Petronio, Dan Wagoner, and Bay Area Repertory Dance,  she studied with her parents Marni and David Wood who both danced with Martha Graham, as did Graff and Stevens. This moving work was commissioned and funded in part by DANCENOWNYC, The Greenway/Leibowitz Foundation, and Snug Harbor Cultural Center.


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