Dark Circles Contemporary Dance: Joshua Peugh and His Confident Curiosity
On the evening of September 26th, I stepped into the intimate Sanders Theatre in Fort Worth Texas to witness the first full-evening program of Dark Circles Contemporary Dance (DCCD). This emerging company was founded in Seoul, South Korea in 2010 by Southern Methodist University alumnus Joshua Peugh. After graduating from SMU in 2006, Peugh joined Universal Ballet in South Korea, performing roles in the commanding contemporary work of Ohad Naharin and Nacho Duato before eventually leaving the company to spearhead his own artistic endeavors with DCCD.
With an interesting turn of events Peugh wound up back at SMU as an adjunct professor (and I am lucky enough to be enrolled in his Advanced modern elective this semester). Peugh expertly eased his way into the Dallas dance scene, choreographing for the 2011 SMU fall dance concert and contributing work for the Bruce Wood Dance Project, while he prepared a foundation for the North American branch of DCCD.
The culmination of this company’s work in America thus far is evidently formed through exploring shapes and the potential of the human body in motion. This means of execution indicates a strong and well-developed understanding of an investigative movement practice rather than the use of an established style and formal vocabulary of movement. But it was Peugh’s original use of luminous textures, comedic pronouncements, and stirring exchange of relationships that defined his voice. In a letter to the viewer, Peugh described his desire for the audience to use his work as means to explore their own personal fantasies.
Peugh’s first piece, Cosmic Sword, teased the audience with an excitingly strange and ambiguous sequence of events, centered upon themes of gender. He began by defying the typical concert dance atmosphere by placing himself downstage left and spreading shaving cream methodically over his face. For a time he appeared to be completely unaware of the furious bursts of undulating movement coming from another male dancer brightly dressed in a short sleeve button down and sunny disposition. After finally acknowledging the presence of what appeared to be a 1950’s inspired mover, Peugh introduced a third character: a woman who moved steadfastly throughout the space, complicating social and spatial relations between herself and the two men along the way. There was a distinct animalistic quality in the partnering work, indicating a grave misapplication of desires and urges. These emotions appeared to be forced out of the individuals’ bodies and into their interactions, tugging and pushing and pulling in exasperation without any noticeable regard for the other dancer’s wellbeing.
The movement was fairly rapid with spurred moments of stillness, not allowing time for the audience to invest in any absolute signifiers or an all-encompassing intrigue. Rather, they were forced to experience the movement as it hit them steering the mind down one of two paths. The spectator might battle between an indiscernible train of thought, or allow an inherent sense of personal fantasy to take over. In taking the latter route I found myself wrapped up in a tumultuous experience and indulging in the movement’s sense of human nature.
The world premiere of Peugh’s Jjigae, which closed DCCD’s Fort Worth show, embraced an exceedingly different tone and quality. The density of the room changed as traditional Korean music accompanied solemn yet poignant dancers, veiled in dim lighting. The dancers were presented as a type of community, interacting in pairs or clusters, but always aware of the presence of others in the space. The fluid sequences of seemingly oppressive and invasive partnering were made eerily significant due to the lack of overt expression or objection on any of the dancers faces.
There was a specific sequence in which dancer Jennifer Mabus entered the space with red shoes. Taking one of them off, she engaged the shoe in a vital tug of war, at times utilizing it as a capable device of force in conjunction with another dancer, Dexter Green. Mabus decisively took this shoe out of its static context as an object, embodying it with feelings of intense distress and longing. Peugh created a tenacious desire to advocate for some intangible thing using one red shoe and two bodies in space. For me this was the most captivating moment of the show.
Jjigae was a refreshing opportunity to see a choreographic voice articulate an educated perspective of another culture, while simultaneously commenting on our own society’s distinct habits. Peugh proved that a thorough study of human movement infused with knowledge of the universality of relationships has the ability to transcend bits of cultural ignorance.
However, I must say that the choreography would not come close to sustaining itself without the raw talent and the expressive qualities of each individual dancer. In dance, the ability to be human, vulnerable, and authentic is a precious and rare power. In order to accomplish the execution of Peugh’s choreography in terms of these standards, the dancers must exhibit an incredibly cultivated awareness of their own bodies and capacity for expression. It is clear that Peugh’s choreographic mind fed off of the contributions of the dancers’ uniqueness, which further fueled the potential of originality in his work. I thoroughly enjoyed the dancers’ subtle interpretations of Peugh’s nuanced thematic material while also embracing the larger context of the body of work.
Throughout the evening, Peugh’s diverse choreography and eloquently expressed subject matter certainly granted the audience an opportunity to develop their own divergent feelings and interpretations of the work. During the performance and my reflection to write a review, I found that I was not at all concerned about defining this movement “style” superficially within the larger dance cannon. I wasn’t pressured to recognize Limon, Graham, or ballet-based vocabulary. Instead I was able to indulge in my own fantasy based on the collection of fascinating human instances. Joshua Peugh possesses a confidence in his expansive curiosity of human movement that will prove DCCD a rising star in the Dallas dance arena.