After a tour in South Korea, artistic director Joshua Peugh’s home away from Dallas, Dark Circles Contemporary Dance will open its fifth season in its hometown of Dallas this weekend. Big Bad Wolf and Les Fairies will focus on dance pieces inspired by cautionary tales, or as Peugh describes, “the ways we scare naughty children into good behavior.”
After graduating Southern Methodist University, Peugh moved to South Korea to join Universal Ballet Company, a Korean troupe with a Russian sensibility. At the time, he says, he couldn’t imagine himself doing anything other than ballet, but an Israeli modern dance instructor turned Peugh’s world upside down, causing him to change the way he thought about dance.
Les Fairies, the second of two performances at the Dee and Charles Wyly Theatre this weekend, is a world premiere and a modern reimagining of the classic ballet Les Sylphides. Richard Abrahamson, staff musician at SMU's Meadows School of the Arts, will perform music by Frédéric Chopin. Reinterpretations of the classics are Peugh’s bread and butter.
“I’m a creature of habit,” he says, “I like that ballet gives you the power to demonstrate your prowess as a technician, but I wanted to do work that ‘left the lobby.’”
Peugh means that he wanted to get to the humanity he and his dancers were demonstrating through dance. As a result, he began to shy away from narrative when creating new dance pieces.
Big Bad Wolf explores fear, Peugh says, and the way almost every culture on earth has used fear as a tool to make people behave. A new score for the work was commissioned from composer and Meadows School of the Arts alumnus Brandon Carson.
“Why is the idea of a bogeyman the same in all these cultures that are all so different?” Peugh asks, looking at Der Struwwelpeter, a German children’s book of stories with horrific endings. In one, a girl plays with matches and burns to death. In another, a boy won’t stop sucking his thumb, and it gets cut off.
“The imagery continues to terrify us,” Peugh says.
The considerable amount of time he’s spent in South Korea, where Dark Circles also operates, has also shaped his thoughts on fear. Peugh was asked to bring his work to the Korean National Dance Company at the Seoul Arts Center from Oct. 13-15, just days before the show opens at the Wyly Theatre as part of the Elevator Project.
“When I was first asked to come back to South Korea, I didn’t immediately consider the real dangers and fear of traveling to South Korea,” he says. While the nation's large military presence is a change from the U.S., Peugh says he has always felt at home as a foreigner there. “Movement is a universal language."
Now that he eschews strict narratives, Peugh feels the immediacy of dance is the most exciting thing about it. “There’s no document left; when it’s over, only the memory of whoever saw it remains,” he says.
He's looking forward to performing in the intimate Wyly studio space. “There,” he says, “you can see and smell the humanity.”
Peugh’s work has appeared many times in Dallas, and he’s choreographed several professional theatrical productions. His company was last seen in Public Works' production of The Tempest at the Dallas Theater Center in the spring, in which 200 community members took the stage with Dallas actors.
Peugh also choreographed DTC’s Colossal, in which football players appeared with professional actors. Peugh says Colossal was one of his favorite projects, and he enjoyed working with the athletes and football trainers to develop the movement for the play.
“I don’t like to just entertain," he says. "I want what I do to be more, to speak a little deeper to people.”
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Peugh is serious about the way he develops his work, too. He says he begins with the movements and lets the piece emerge step by step. Meditation and deep, purposeful breathing are part of his everyday warmup exercises with DCCD dancers.
By becoming deeply connected to the inner workings of the body, Peugh says, dancers can accurately respond to changes during performances. Even a different breakfast can alter the way a dancer’s body reacts on stage.
“Our instrument [the body] is always changing, so sticking with the principles makes the performance alive. I hope that, as a result, our work is honest and authentic, and you as the audience can get lost in that fantasy.”
Big Bad Wolf and Les Fairies will run Oct. 19-21 at the Dee and Charles Wyly Theatre, 2400 Flora St. Tickets are $25. For more information, visit darkcirclescontemporarydance.com.