It’s that time of the year when colleges are staging their end of semester dance concerts, and Southern Methodist University is no exception. Yet, their concerts follow a different structure than other institutions. While other colleges in North Texas highlight a mixture of faculty and student works in either their fall or spring dance programs, SMU’s features three faculty/guest artists and either premieres or restagings of established and popular works. It’s an educational and enriching experience for the students involved, and exposes a segment of contemporary dance history to audience members.
For this spring’s production, the concert includes the premiere of two new works, one from alumnus Joshua Peugh, the founder and artistic director of Dark Circles Contemporary Dance, and the other from visiting Artist-in-Residence John Selya. Faculty member Danny Buraczeski is restaging his acclaimed 1999 piece Ezekiel’s Wheel, inspired by the life and work of author and civil rights activist James Baldwin.
In the first of this three-part interview series with the choreographers, I spoke with Joshua Peugh about his new work, The Hi Betty Cha-Cha, for his alma mater. Peugh graduated in 2006 and moved to South Korea to join the Universal Ballet Company. In 2010, he left UBC to co-found the original Dark Circles Contemporary Dance in Seoul, and then started the North Texas branch in 2013. Since then, Peugh has been traveling all over the world creating work for companies in Asia, Europe, Canada and the U.S., and was selected as one of Dance Magazine’s “25 to Watch” in 2015.
Danielle Georgiou: The Hi Betty Cha-Cha. What does this piece mean to you?
Joshua Peugh: It’s a celebration of youth and romance. It’s a celebration of these particular dancers and their enthusiasm for moving.
DG: This new piece uses music from Dean Martin, Quartetto Centra, Ryuichi Sakamoto, and a personal favorite of mine, Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass’ “Zorba the Greek.” These artists are quite different from each other, opposites almost. What motivated you to select them individually and combine them for this piece?
JP: This work began as a completely blank slate; the only things I knew were that I was going to use pointe shoes and that it should be light and playful. I’ve wanted to use Quartetto Centra’s “Crapa Pelada” since I first heard it in a card shop in LA. The song has such great character. All of these songs evoke a sense of nostalgia and simplicity. They’re romantic and they make me want to move.
DG: What is your hope that the piece illustrates for the audience?
JP: I hope they are swept away. I hope they’ll get lost in the movement and the fantasy.
DG: How has your experience been working with the students at SMU? How have they adapted to the work and your style?
JP: I adore the SMU students. They are thoughtful. They have given their stories to the work. They have kept open minds and hearts throughout the creation process. They have been curious and they have brought lightness and warmth to the dance.
DG: How does this piece fit into the aesthetic you are crafting both as a teacher and as choreographer/artistic director of Dark Circles?
JP: Every time I create I hope to challenge my aesthetic. I encourage my company dancers and my students to be uncomfortable, to find new things, and to let go of the idea of consistency. I try to approach each new creation with curiosity and blankness. This piece has been a pleasure to create; it has the delicacy and sensitivity of a more mature group of dancers, but it has kept the twinkle and the mischief of youth.
DG: How important is storytelling to your work? From what I’ve seen of your past works, it seems to be a grounding element. How does this work continue that?
JP: Storytelling is the most important thing for my work to do, but I almost never create with a narrative in mind. The narrative seems to develop through the process. Like most of my work, this is an ensemble work, but each dancer has created their own character, and those characters have developed as the work has matured and deepened.
- SMU’s Spring Dance Concert runs Wednesday though Saturday at 8:00 p.m. and Sunday at 2:00 p.m. at the Bob Hope Theatre – Owen Arts Center, inside the Meadows School of the Arts.
The next interview in this series will be with visiting Artist-in-Residence John Selya, who will premiere an extremely physical yet psychological new work depicting one man’s struggle to stay on course, based on Tom Stoppard’s radio play Darkside and the music of Pink Floyd.