Fort Worth — For modern dance, the gap between mediocre and excellent can be summed up in one word: choreography. Even the smallest local company can boast good dancers, but few can claim compelling works. And so for Joshua L. Peugh, artistic director and chief choreographer of Dark Circles Contemporary Dance, we are thankful, for his company consistently turns out many a wonderful work.
Such was the case Friday night at Studio Theatre in Erma Lowe Hall, on the Texas Christian University campus, with three splendid works, two of them new. The tender and romantic It’s a Boy contrasted to the comic Slump and Aimless Young Man, devoid of Peugh’s usual irony.
It’s a Boy was sandwiched between the two comic pieces, and showed Peugh’s gift for capturing the strong bond between friends and lovers. Dressed alike in black tailcoats and white vests, David Cross, Alex Karigan Farrior, Peugh and Kelsey Rohn sidle in carrying canes, which they put to use in many ways: carrying them on their backs, “stabbing” their midsections, tapping them on the ground. But then the canes become the tie that brings them together, when one is held horizontally so another dancer can step over it, or held out for another to grasp. In one beautiful section set to “Say It Isn’t So,” Rohr slowly rotates as she holds her cane far out like a beacon, or rather, as though she is reaching for the heavens.
On the surface, Peugh’s Slump, created only three years ago, and his brand new Aimless Young Man are equally comic, but the gap between them is wide.
Slump is an aggressive battle of the sexes, frivolous and outrageous, where the men are wary and the women contemptuous. Outfitted in bright-colored 1950s dress (complete with flouncy crinolines) and trousers for the men, the dancers move in a loopy fashion. They slouch and lumber with legs bent far apart, wiggling fannies. Sometimes the men carry women upside down with the women’s limbs shooting out at all angles; other times a woman pushes her head against a man’s midsection as he manages to maneuver her in circles.
To set the scene for Aimless Young Man two stage hands roll a complicated trolley from the side, and one of them is hoisted to the height of the ceiling. There he unrolls a long banner of muddy red, black and gold. The scene is repeated four times, with banners depicting—among other things—a master of ceremonies and words like “Join the Cause.”
So even before the performers spill out into the space, we know that a circus, set perhaps in the early 1900s, will ensue and with it, wild and uninhibited performers. The audience is primed. Underlying the scene is a quality of menace as well as melancholy, the former expressed by the master of ceremonies and the latter by a clown in green, garish face paint.
While Slump is earthbound, Aimless Young Man is aerial—an acrobat in skimpy short dress and enormous plume stands on her helper’s shoulders, peering down at the goings-on below. Some kind of commotion is taking place, and once the acrobat alights, all but one of the nine performers form a line and slap, slap, slap, their chests, rhythmically but pointlessly. The straggler—feeling rebellious perhaps—finally joins in. From the outside, life in the circus is a merry, turbulent affair; inside is jealousy and boredom.
» Margaret Putnam has been writing about dance since 1980, with works published by D Magazine, The Dallas Observer, The Dallas Times Herald, The Dallas Morning News, The New York Times, Playbill, Stagebill, Pointe Magazine and Dance Magazine.