Dallas — One minute the five female dancers are motionless and the next they are a flurry of heavy-footed traveling steps, concaved shapes, hip undulations and subtle hand gestures which are emphasized by the musical nuances in Leroy Anderson’s “The Typewriter.” The dancers’ rigorous modern and balletic moves are layered with continuous shifts in speed, level and texture as well as moments of stillness punctuated with repetitive body ticks such as head tilts and pelvic thrusts.
This is the opening section of Joshua L. Peugh’s new work Gal Friday part of Dark Circles Contemporary Dance’s (DCCD) Fall Series: The Great American Shit Show which takes place Nov. 18 and 20 at Southern Methodist University’s Bob Hope Theatre in Dallas. The piece, which explores the American woman’s experience in the home and workplace, was created with the help of a dozen 10-year-old girls from Girls Inc., a national non-profit organization that teaches leadership skills to young women. Peugh spent two hours every Monday for about four weeks with these girls investigating movement through improvisational games and group conversations. “In one exercise I had us go around in circle and everyone would add in a movement which then became a whole phrase,” Peugh says. “I also asked them questions about themselves like what makes them feel strong and what they dream about doing in the future.”
Peugh also threw in some out of the box questions such as “would you rather live in space and touch the stars or live underwater with the fishes” to really push the young ladies outside their comfort zones. “This whole experience for me was about getting these girls excited about being creative and showing them that their ideas are valued.”
The final product is an exciting mix of solos, duets and group dance sequences that are tied together with this theme of female empowerment which Peugh then pairs with some legendary female singers including Rosemary Clooney’s “I’ll Be Seeing You,” Annette Funicello’s “Pineapple Princess” and June Christy’s “Something Cool.” When asked about his musical choices for this piece Peugh says, “I was drawn to Rosemary Clooney’s cool heavy voice, and growing up my parent’s best friend used to sing “Pineapple Princess” all the time to us in the car. Plus Annette Funicello was in one of my all-time favorite movies “Beach Party.” Peugh’s appreciation for the movie can be seen throughout the Pineapple Princess section, but especially when the company hula dances across the back of the stage as Taylor Rodman explores the space in the center with a number of expansive arm movements and off center body positions.
Rodman is just one of many new faces gracing the stage with DCCD this season. Others include Cody Berkeley, Olin Blackmore, Rebecca Grace Moore and Lena Oren. Founding member Emily Bernet also makes her triumphant return this season. Each of these dancers have extensive training in various dance styles, including modern, ballet, jazz and contemporary. They also have completed their college degrees which played a major part in Peugh’s decision process during the open audition last March. “I decided that this season I was not going to hire any more students. This way I don’t have to work around different school schedules and the dancers aren’t spread so thin.”
With this said Peugh still looks for dancers whose movement tendencies and artistic sensibilities parallel his own. “I am always drawn to open-minded and open-hearted dancers who are curious by nature. I look for dancers who are not afraid to let go of their inhibitions.” He immediately saw these attributes in Berkeley, Blackmore, Moore, Oren and Rodman. “During the audition Taylor caught my eye with her creativity and open minded approach to the movement while Rebecca stood out with her compelling story telling abilities.”
Peugh also says that working with a more mature group of dancers allows him the opportunity to explore heavier subject matters such as what it means to be American which is the inspiration for another one of his pieces, The Great American Shit Show. “It hit me after I came back from Seoul how much I needed things. I would see a billboard and I immediately wanted what was being advertised. This piece is about me trying to rearrange my idea of what it means to be an American.”
The work features all of our favorite Peugh idiosyncrasies including heavy tailbone walks, deep leg lunges, reactionary partnering and universal gesturing such as wagging a finger for shaking one’s head to say no. The piece begins with the dancers slipping and sliding around the space on all fours to the 1950s’ classic “The Best Is Yet To Come.” As the music changes to a heavy techno beat the dancers start bouncing off one another as they gather in a clump upstage. As the music shifts again to the whirling sound of a helicopter’s blades the dancers slow their movements down and break into pairs before coming together for the climactic finale.
You can experience Gal Friday and The Great American Shit Show for yourself during Dark Circles Contemporary Dance’s Fall Series Nov. 18 and 20 at SMU’s Bob Hope Theatre in Dallas. The program also includes Peugh’s offbeat duet Coyotes Tip-Toe and a high-octane piece by Jonathan Campbell and Austin Diaz of Madboots Dance.
» Katie Dravenstott is a freelance writer and dance instructor in Dallas. Visit her blog at www.kddance.wordpress.com