Blake John Wood is one of the Australian dance industry’s biggest talents. With a career spanning everything from music videos and fashion shows to working with Marko Panzic’s The Dream Dance Company, his passion for performing, choreography and coaching has seen him emerge as an in-demand creative visionary amongst the commercial dance community. As one of the Victorian Dance Festival (VDF)’s instructors for 2020, we spoke to Wood about his career, his plans for the newly rescheduled festival in October, and how he’s coping with the current crisis.
Wood’s career began early, mainly because his parents were seeking an outlet for his energy. “I believe I was a very annoying kid,” he laughs, “and my parents needed a time-out. I was enrolled in dance classes at age six, and somewhere along the way, I fell head over heels in love with this art form. I haven’t looked back since!”
From there, Wood’s career has gone from strength to strength, and he’s worked with some of Australia’s – and the world’s – biggest names. “Last year, I had the privilege of teaming up with Universal Music and Island Records to work as choreographer and movement coach on music video clips for hit singles, ‘Glimpse’ and ‘All Day’, by Havana Brown,” he notes.“In 2018, I took on the role of choreographer and dance coordinator for the internationally renowned Marquee Nightclub, giving me the pleasure of providing dancers for an assortment of global artist appearances. And, in terms of performing, I was fortunate enough to dance for KE$HA as part of her headlining act at Mardi Gras last month, in conjunction with her feature performance on Sunrise. I listened to her music religiously as a teenager, so that was a cool full circle moment for me!”
Of course, teaching dance is yet another string to Wood’s bow, and the chance for his students to learn from someone who is still so involved in the performance side of the industry is perhaps why his classes are so popular. “Teaching is a privilege and a responsibility that I do not take lightly,” he explains. “My job as a dance teacher has connected me with a multitude of incredible dancers nationwide, and I could not be more grateful for the support I’ve received over the years. My students have a huge impact on me, and I hope that I have and will continue to do the same in return. My choreography is an accumulation of all that I know; however, I rarely choreograph on or for myself. I generate the movement for a target audience, client or dancer, and I find it so gratifying as a creative to watch this portrayal come to fruition.”
It is this outlook that has us so excited for Wood’s classes at VDF, newly rescheduled to October. “My classes will be high-energy and fast-paced,” confirms Wood. “By the time VDF comes around, I’ll be really eager to share what I’ve been working on during this isolation period. I’m so excited for us all to be united and dancing together again,” he adds. “Last year was my first VDF, and I loved every minute of it. I’m pumped to return again this year!”
And, although this year’s event has been pushed back, Wood believes events like VDF will be essential once things are moving again. “There is an essence of community at dance festivals and conventions like VDF, as dancers from all over are united and brought together by a mutual love for dance which we all share in a safe and positive environment,” he explains. “Particularly following an unusual time like this, I believe it is paramount for the dance community. There will be an extra special buzz in the air once we are able to proceed with these events, and I am so excited.”
In the meantime, Wood is keeping himself busy. “At the moment, I am focussing on goal setting and planning ahead of time for when life and work returns to normal again,” he describes. “I’m looking into studying a short online business course during this period to sharpen my administrative skills, while simultaneously teaching online classes in an effort to stay connected with my students. Having said that, stillness is important, too, and I have always deeply identified my purpose with what I do for work. With this partial separation in mind, I am employing this quiet time to research and explore other interests and, above all, reconnect and reboot.”
His advice for those of us who are trying to maintain our technique and creativity at this time is to tap into the resources that are now available. “Choreographers, teachers and studio owners are working around the clock to ensure that dancers have access to ongoing maintenance and training at this time,” he says. “International choreographers are also contributing by hosting live classes and preparing dance tutorials. Amidst all of the chaos and uncertainly right now, it’s important that you’re taking advantage of the opportunity to learn from artists who wouldn’t normally be so accessible. Do your research, and keep your eyes peeled! However, each of us cope differently, and it’s totally okay to not be productive at this time. Be careful not to overextend, and don’t let the internet lead you to believe you’re not doing enough; never underestimate the power of doing absolutely nothing. There is so much to be grateful for. Perspective is key.”
Wood, like most of us, is looking at a fairly open schedule for the coming months, but he’s staying positive. “For now, the majority of my work and upcoming projects have been put on hold until further notice,” he explains. “I’m using this time to research, relax, get inspired and create – within reason – so that I’m ready to hit the ground running once we’re back!”
For more information on the Victorian Dance Festival, to be held 2 – 4 October 2020, visit www.vdf.com.au.
By Emily Newton-Smith of Dance Informa.