Needham-Wood — who before the age of 6 started ballet training at Massachusetts’s L’ecole de Ballet — brings years of experience and unrelenting passion for the art form to his new role. For more than 10 years, Needham-Wood has been innovative in shaping San Francisco’s dance scene as a performer, filmmaker, arts educator and creator of ground-breaking performances.
He took home a Northern California Emmy for his work in “Baseballet: Into the Game,” a documentary that spotlighted the athleticism of dance and its parallels to baseball in one of the most famous sports venues in the world. In the film — directed by Matthew McKee — Needham-Wood and other Bay Area talent transformed AT&T Park into an expansive stage where spellbinding moves were made on the field, in the stands and even on a concession cart.
In the fall of 2021, he collaborated with Boulder Ballet and spent two weeks coaching the company in “The Devil Ties My Tongue” by Amy Seiwert.
We caught up with the award-winning choreographer to find out more about when his love for ballet began, what he hopes to add to the Front Range’s art community and how dance has been a current of healing throughout his life.
Kalene McCort: I read that your ballet training started at the age of 5. Did you automatically feel a call to the art form in your childhood?
Ben Needham-Wood: I did. My babysitter was a dance teacher, and I still remember going to her recital and seeing dance for the first time. I immediately wanted to get up and move, and when I was finally enrolled in classes it became my happy place. I didn’t fully understand at the time why dance felt so fun and empowering, but it absolutely transformed my life and became the center of my childhood experience.
KM: What are you most looking forward to about working with Boulder Ballet, and are you open to collaborating with other creatives for future productions?
BNW: I’m really looking forward to watching these dancers thrive. The artists in the company are such great people, full of passion and hungry for the work, so to be around their energy and support their growth is going to make this an incredibly meaningful experience for me. Collaboration is my favorite part of making art. We learn so much when we’re introduced to new perspectives and ideas, so I definitely see a very collaborative future for Boulder Ballet.
KM: I understand as part of Boulder Ballet’s September production of “Fall Passages,” at Chautauqua, you will be premiering a new work. Can you let us in on what inspired this new performance and what audiences can expect?
BNW: This new work will actually be the start of a year-long adventure. I was having dinner with my wife a few months back, and the idea of creating a “murder mystery ballet” came up. This will essentially be part one in that creation — introducing the characters in a fun, quirky dance that leads to the shocking murder of one of the guests. As our season goes on my plan is to release small clues to the murderer’s identity, but if audiences want to know who committed the crime they’ll have to join us at the company’s 40th Anniversary Gala in the spring.
KM: How was the transition moving from San Francisco to Boulder? What are you enjoying about your new home in the Front Range?
BNW: So I actually have not yet moved to Boulder — I will be getting into town on Aug. 6. I have been in Colorado since December though — in Basalt— and I have to say that the mountains and outdoor lifestyle here have been an incredible change of pace. San Francisco certainly gave me a lot, both professionally and through friendships I know I’ll treasure forever, and I’ll always hold a special place in my heart for that community.
But what I’m so excited about is that this new chapter gives me the opportunity to take what I’ve learned and share it in a totally new environment. I’m so excited for all the work we will do with Boulder Ballet, and I’m equally excited to continue enjoying the outdoors, paddle boarding and hiking with my wife, and building a home that brings my family and passions together in one place.
KM: I know that you credit ballet as being therapeutic when it comes to mental health. How has the art form helped you through challenging times?
BNW: Dance has been my therapy through some major personal traumas in my life. I am an adult survivor of childhood sexual abuse, and I lost my mom to cancer when I was 25 years old. Physical movement and artistic expression have helped me process and digest those traumas — and smaller ones — but recently I started studying the science behind dance’s therapeutic capacity. There are so many benefits to movement rooted in neuroscience and our biology, and my sincerest hope is that we can integrate this information into our community to support our collective mental health coming out of this bizarre and isolated time.
Boulder Ballet’s Upcoming PerformancesSept. 24, 2022: “Fall Passages,” Chautauqua AuditoriumNov. 25-27, 2022: “The Nutcracker,” Macky AuditoriumFeb. 23-26, 2023: “New Moves,” Dairy Arts CenterMay 18-21, 2023: Classical Story Ballet (TBA), Dairy Arts CenterJune 2-3, 2023: “Ballet in the Park,” Huntington Bandshell, BoulderJune 4, 2023: “Ballet in the Park,” Civic Center Park, Highlands Ranch