Berkeley - David Wood, a renowned dancer, choreographer and professor emeritus at the University of California, Berkeley, who founded the campus's dance program, died on April 21 of complications from Parkinson's disease and muscular dystrophy. He was 77.
During Wood's career, he served as a rehearsal director and soloist with the Martha Graham Dance Company. He also danced with Alwin Nikolais, José Limón, Doris Humphrey, the Dudley-Maslow Bales Trio, Charles Weidman, and Helen Tamiris. He appeared on television as an actor/dancer, in Broadway musicals, and with the Metropolitan and New York City Opera companies.
“He was a magnificent jumper and very light on his feet,” said his wife, Marnie Thomas, who worked with him at the Martha Graham Dance Company. “He could take off and hang in the air.”
Thomas, also a professor of modern dance technique, choreography and dance history, said her husband brought to his field abilities to dance, sing, act and teach. He had a dramatically strong presence on stage and a driving personality as well, she said.
Born in Fresno, Calif., in 1925, Wood graduated from UC Berkeley on his 20th birthday. On the same day, Wood was commissioned into the U.S. Navy, serving aboard the USS Philadelphia through the end of World War II.
With support from the GI Bill, he moved to New York to study acting at the Neighborhood Playhouse, where he developed a new focus on dance. In 1949, he began his professional dance career as a teacher for, and member of, Hanya Holm's company.
Wood began his 15-year association with Martha Graham in 1953, performing and touring with her company, along with teaching in her school. Half of that time, he served as rehearsal director for her company. Of the many roles she created for him, Wood probably is best known for his portrayal of the messenger of death in Graham's epic “Clytemnestra.”
During this period, he was part of the faculty of the High School of Performing Arts and taught each summer at the American Dance Festival in New London, Conn.
In 1968, he established the dance program at UC Berkeley and founded the Bay Area Repertory Dance resident dance company, BARD, which continues to tour the western U.S. and Europe.
During his career, he choreographed extensively and taught throughout the United States with major international engagements in Sweden, Mexico, Belgium, Israel and Japan.
Among his awards, he received the Berkeley Citation and the Distinguished Teaching Award from UC Berkeley; an Isadora Duncan Lifetime Achievement Award with his wife, Marnie, from the Bay Area community; and two choreography grants from the National Endowment for the Arts.
He choreographed in 1988-89 for the Emmy Award-winning NOVA production of “Super Conductivity.” He also authored, “On Angels and Devils and Stages Between: Contemporary Lives in Contemporary Dance,” about his experiences in teaching, dance and choreography. It was published in 1999. He also was an avid gardener and loved to transform wild spaces “into places that were formed and beautiful,” said Thomas, adding that his approach to gardening was not unlike how he felt about dance.
Wood was diagnosed with muscular dystrophy in 1983 and with Parkinson's disease in 1993, the same year that he retired from teaching. He nevertheless retained a positive outlook on life, Thomas said. “He didn't have a lot of sorrows or regrets; he had had his day,” she said.
His dances are still being performed, and the University Dance Theater is scheduled to perform his “After Dusk” in matinee performances at the Zellerbach Playhouse at UC Berkeley on April 27-28.
He is survived by his wife, Marnie Thomas; daughters, Marina Marlowe-Wood of San Mateo, Calif., Raegan Sanders of Montclair, N.J., and Ellis Wood of New York City; sisters, Phyllis Anne Tidyman and Barbara Crockett; and five grandchildren.
The family welcomes contributions to the David Wood Endowment, c/o of the Department of Theater, Dance, and Performance Studies, 101 Dwinelle Annex, UC Berkeley, Berkeley, CA 94720-2560. Checks should be written to the UC Berkeley Foundation - Department of Theater, Dance and Performance Studies. Memorial services will be private.