Dallas — Maybe it’s November. Maybe it’s the election. Whatever it is that stirred up Dark Circles Contemporary Dance, it’s certainly wasn’t cake and ale.
The old Dark Circles offered mostly wacky, off-kilter fare, some of it charming, some of it sinister, some of it touching. This time, however, we were in for a new Dark Circles, one that brought anger and foreboding to the surface or very off-handedly hinted at trouble.
That new mood was most apparent in the opening work, artistic director Joshua L. Peugh’s The Great American Sh*t Show, performed Friday night at Bob Hope Theatre on the Owen Arts Center on the Southern Methodist University campus. Mr. Peugh has a beef with America: it’s too obsessed with things, too indifferent to the environment, too self-centered.
At least that’s my assessment, and given how cryptic, even baffling, Mr. Peugh’s works are, I could be totally off base. But certainly, The Great American Sh*t Show is dark. Fog envelops a dark stage littered with mounds of trash. At first, the dancers seem in a jovial mood, dressed in shorts and pants and wearing blue surgical gloves. (Contamination a threat?)
Then it turns sinister. As six dancers cavort on one side, Emily Bernet stands motionless in front, every once in a while drinking from a can. Slowly at the edge of the stage Olin Blackmore inches his way forward on a crawl, comes up behind Ms. Bernet and cobra-like, slithers his way up her body. In the meantime, Ms. Bernet stares ahead, sipping soda. Once Mr. Blackmore has reached her head, he foists a kiss. She remains immobile, only leaning away from his insistent grasp. He does not relent, coiling around her and constricting her. We feel we are witnessing a rape.
This little scene has to be one of the most uncomfortable performances ever seen on stage, the rape of a sentient human being, and metaphorically a rape of the environment and a culture.
Topping it off is schizophrenic music: “The Best is Yet To Come,” “Chechnya,” Korean music by Kim Young-Im, and “The Best of Times” by Perry Como, with some looming helicopter noise mixed in.
For Allen, a premiere by New York-based Jonathan Campbell and Austin Diaz, had only the haze-filled stage in common with American Sh*t Show and the eclectic mix of music: “4 Room,” “Smile” by Nat King Cole, “Air on the G String,” “Breech on the Bowstring” and “Ave Maria.”
Beatnik Allen Ginsberg’s verse wafts in and out—“I cried looking at the happy flowers in my backyard, I cried at the sadness of the middle-aged trees…” as dancers run, fall, stumble, slide and run some more. In fact, what makes this dance so arresting is how the dancers run at full speed, or stagger, or careen as they flail arms, halt and make an abrupt turn about. The lighting, subtle and evocative, creates its own tension, switching from very dim to only slightly brighter, and coming from different directions to cast the dance in a different mood.
Mr. Peugh’s gift of the outrageous gave Cody Berkeley and Chadi El-Khoury a change to be wild and unpredictable in Coyotes Tip-Toe. They careen, chase and crumple in a heap, and end chin to chin. They step back, face each other, and howl.
At the end of the piece, the recorded voice of Etta James singing “These Foolish Things” makes an ironic statement, for the work was inspired by the massacre of gay men at an Orlando night club. Howl away…
It was either an antidote to the grimness of American Sh*t Show, or an ironic comment on the status of women in the ’50s, but the effect Mr. Peugh’s Gal Friday mainly seemed to hark back to a more innocent time—if we believe TV and the movies. Gal Friday was as perky as the hula music and the clackety-clack of Leroy Anderson’s “The Typewriter” and nothing but high spirits and good cheer in Leroy Anderson’s “Bugler’s Holiday.”
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.