Visiting Dancer Ben Needham-Wood Hits It Out of the Park


Credit: Williston Instagram

Once just a five-year-old dancing at L’ecole de Ballet in Littleton, Massachusetts, Ben Needham-Wood worked his way to the biggest stage of his life — The San Francisco Giants baseball diamond.

Needham-Wood, a ballerino as well as a choreographer, came to Williston as a part of the Grum Project from January 7 – 12. He taught classes to the dance ensemble and gave a presentation during and after school.

Needham-Wood danced through high school while he attended St. Paul’s School in New Hampshire. He graduated in 2006, racking up numerous arts awards at school before leaving for college. While at University of Cincinnati’s College-Conservatory of Music he started to dance with Louisville Ballet, one of the nation’s premier ballet companies. He stayed in college while dancing with the company, and graduated 2010 Magna Cum Laude with a BFA in ballet.

Needham-Wood created an EMMY winning film titled BaseBallet. Comparing the similarities between baseball and ballet, BaseBallet praises the athleticism required of dancers. In 2015, a feature segment of BaseBallet won an EMMY award. In 2018, BaseBallet Into the Game, a 30-minute long film, won an impressive four Regional EMMY Awards. For San Francisco and Norther California it won the Best Arts/Entertainment – Program/Special, Best Writer – Program, Best Editor – program, and Best Photographer – Program.

The filming of BaseBallet took place at AT&T Park in California, home of the San Francisco Giants, in 2017. It took Needham-Wood and his partner in the process, Weston Krukow, two weeks to develop their personal movements for the piece and then another two weeks working with the other dancers to design the dance for BaseBallet. They had two rehearsals at AT&T park to fit the choreography into the space.

It was “so much fun,” Needham-Wood told The Willistonian. It was the biggest stage we have ever had to perform on for sure,” he said with a smile.

Needham-Wood was in awe of how massive the [field and stadium] was while dancing.

“There is such a gravity that you feel when you’re in there and you can look up and see how expansive those stands are and you just feel the energy that’s left residually from the crowd the night before,” he said. “That energy was still there and still so prominent and that really fueled the performances.”

As a kid Needham-Wood performed every style of dance. But his interest in baseball didn’t develop until later, when he moved to San Francisco and became best friends with Weston Krukow, the son of Mike Krukow, a former starting pitcher for the San Francisco Giants.

Needham-Wood and Weston Krukow chose baseball as a sport to compare to ballet partly because of the connection and influence of Mike Krukow.

“We recognized that we had this mutual appreciation, Weston and myself with Mike, where he could recognize the discipline of dance through his lenses as a baseball player, and we could appreciate the physicality of baseball through are discipline as dancers,” he said. “So that mutual appreciation lead to a lot of discussions where Mike was actually the one who said you guys should make a film about this.”

Needham-Wood believes dance if a great way to expressive feelings and emotions.

“My favorite part of dance is the expressive quality that it offers. I think our earliest form of communication was body language,” he said. “So, knowing that body language was our most primal form of communication, dance to me feels like the most honest way to express what I’m feeling or to show a story without out having to struggle to put the right word on that moment.”

Needham-Wood’s passion for dance is apparent not only while performing but also when he works with students. He wants Williston students will be inspired to do what they love.

“I hope that they are able to find an example of how persuing your passion is never wrong,” he said. “There is something to be gained from sharing your experience with others and opening up a vulnerability to somebody else so that you can continue to share a conversation about how you both can be your very best.”

Debra Vega, Head of the Dance Department, praised the inventiveness Needham-Wood has gathered as a result of his impressive resume.

“Ben is so creative on so many levels,” Vega said. “Not only is he highly skilled in so many styles of dance, from classical ballet, to contemporary to hip-hop, but he is also a director of a San Francisco based-dance company and has taught master classes all over the world.”

Vega not only loves his dancing, but also thinks the idea behind BaseBallet is wonderful.

“His dance film is so innovative,” he said. “He has found a way to combine the artistry and athleticism of both dance and baseball, all while shooting a beautiful film inside a professional baseball stadium. Brilliant!”

Vega is excited to see how much students improve with his presence.

“I am hoping the dancers will get to experience some of his expertise in many different dance styles, all while being challenged to grow and develop in their own technique and artistry,” she said.

Just like Vega, dance captain Kassandra Orcutt, ’19, couldn’t wait for Mr. Needham-Wood to come to Williston.

“I think that everyone, not just dancer, can benefit from working with someone like Ben,” she said. She hoped Needham-Wood would show just how much athleticism dance requires.

“My biggest hope is for students on campus to develop a greater understanding and appreciation for dancers,” she said. “I think that the culture here on campus is so oriented towards sports. It’s evident in the amount of attention and awards we present athletes but not artists. And what about athletic artists?”

“I believe dance is the middle ground between athletes and artists and that’s what makes it so special and valuable to me,” she added. “I hope Ben can convey this message and open people up to the wonderful world of dance.”

Needham-Wood’s BaseBallet trailer can be viewed here: