Dallas — The event that many dance critics in the Dallas-Fort Worth area have deemed one of the most highly anticipated performances of 2016 is finally here as Avant Chamber Ballet(ACB) and Dark Circles Contemporary Dance (DCCD) prepare for their first joint performance at Dallas City Performance Hall this Friday. While neither company is a stranger to the city, this will be DCCD’s first time performing in Dallas (the group is based in Dallas, but performs in Fort Worth), a move that DCCD fans on the east side of the Metroplex greatly appreciate. The program includes George Balanchine’s Who Cares?, Katie Cooper’s Raymondaand Joshua L. Peugh’s widely talked about The Rite of Spring.
Watching DCCD rehearse Peugh’s Rite of Spring last week at Southern Methodist University’s Meadows School Dance, I can say viewers are going to be pleased to see all of their favorite Peugh mannerisms, including heavy-footed traveling steps, playful partnering and swimming floor work. These will be magnified when combined with Stravinsky’s grating composition and Peugh’s prom-based narrative that isn’t centered around one specific emotion or experience. “Something that has occurred to me over the last few months is that you can experience more than one feeling at the same time,” says Peugh. “So I am not trying so hard anymore to feel just happy, lonely or sad in the work that I create. I am trying to let all those layers be there at the same time, and that is what gives the work humanity, color and texture.”
The inspiration for Rite of Spring came to Peugh while watching the Meadows Symphony Orchestra led by Paul Phillips perform Igor Stravinsky’s famously controversial score about four years ago. “During the performance I started seeing these images of a lone streamer blowing in the wind after the prom was over and that was the image that began the whole idea for the work. And the more I worked on it the more interesting it became to me to explore this modern ritual and what that means to me.” He adds, “Everyone has their own fantasy of their prom, and one of the things I like about this project is I get to create my version of what prom could have been like.”
Peugh’s prom fantasy takes place in the 1950’s, one of his favorite eras to illustrate, as we have seen over the course of his flourishing career with works, including Slump, Critics of the Morning Song and It’s a Boy! “There are so many things that I love about that time period,” Peugh explains. “Growing up I was really into 1950s’ TV shows like the Dick Van Dyke Show, I Love Lucy and Alfred Hitchcock Presents. I also think growing up in a small, conservative town in southern New Mexico, these shows were a similar version to what was happening in my real life. So, these images of America are very familiar to me.”
To keep the work from just being a 50’s prom version of the Rite of Spring, Peugh needed to add a modern day twist to the dance, which he believes he found by having Chadi El-Khoury and Sarah Hammonds perform the piece in drag. Peugh became fascinated by the idea of drag when he was working in Seattle over the summer with Whim W’Him. “Coming from my southern New Mexico background, drag isn’t something I understand very easily, so I have a lot of questions and insecurities about what that means when a man is performing as women.” Peugh spent a lot of time talking to individuals who do drag about their culture and says there are still many things he has yet to learn about the drag queen lifestyle. El-Khoury and Hammonds appeared to be quite comfortable with their gender reversals during rehearsal. Hammonds transitioned into her male role by relaxing her posture and adding more weight to her arm and leg movements. El-Khoury had to do the exact opposite with his softer hand gestures and more balletic body positions. Peugh hopes this decision will add some interesting texture and depth to the work.
Audiences will be surprised to learn that the movement for the group sections actually derives from line dancing. “The whole company went line dancing one night and what was fascinating to me was watching normal people do this repetitive movement that becomes a ritual and then watching other people join in.” He adds, “I started doing some research, and I discovered that line dancing actually started to become popular in America in the 50’s and 60’s. And line dances weren’t associated with country western dance; they were basically social dances. So, you will see that repetition of movement in the piece.”
If you can’t make it to Dark Circles Contemporary Dance’s joint performance with Avant Chamber Ballet this Friday, you can catch Peugh’s Rite of Spring again at DCCD’s Spring Series April 29-May 1 at Texas Christian University in Fort Worth.
» Katie Dravenstott is a freelance writer and dance instructor in Dallas. Visit her blog at www.kddance.wordpress.com