Dallas — In one fell swoop, Dark Circles Contemporary Dance went from dream to nightmare with only a brief intermission in between.
Les Fairies and Big Bad Wolf, making their debuts Thursday night at the Wyly Theatre’s Sixth Floor Studio Theatre as part of the AT&T Performing Arts Center’s Elevator Project, had absolutely nothing in common with each other except or the intelligence of Joshua L. Peugh’s choreography.
Mr. Peugh, the company’s founder and artistic director, departed from his usual irony and quirkiness in Les Fairies, a very contemporary interpretation of Michel Fokine’s famous Les Sylphides. Set to Chopin’s nocturnes, waltzes, preludes and mazurkas, Peugh’s ballet has sweep and flow and impetuosity, if not the poetic, otherworldly airiness of the original. But then, the new version is just as innocent and just as free, and clearly set in the present day: white tops and white jeans, bare feet, and un-atmospheric white lighting. No nocturnal setting here.
Instead of a slew of Sylphs and a lone Poet, Les Fairies features three women (Victoria Daylor, Hattie Haggard, Lena Oren) and four men (Orlando Agawin, Nicholas Heffelfinger, Jaiquan Laurencin and Mr. Peugh). The odd numbers allow for smooth lifts and easy landings, pauses, spins and regroupings, and the space plenty of room for unhurried runs and reversals. (Is Mr. Peugh channeling Bruce Wood?) At the end, Mr. Heffelfinger drops to the floor, wilted, lies sideways, and shuts his eyes: the poet has fallen asleep.
Although to the casual observer Les Fairies is simply a earthier version of Les Sylphides without the frothy tulle and garlanded hair, Les Fairies plays on the relationships of LGBT, hence the wink with “fairies.”
As adept as Mr. Peugh is with ballet, his true brilliance shows up in Big Bad Wolf, a truly great work.
When the company performed an abbreviated version of Big Bad Wolf last month in the Dallas DanceFest, who could forget the menacing appearance of Mr. Peugh in tight red pants, grey flock coat and red sunglasses, empty knapsack at his feet, watching for his next victim?
Well, the 30-minute version was a lot more harrowing than the excerpt, a Halloween fun-house nightmare. Borrowing bits and pieces from the Brothers Grimm and Heinrich Hoffman’s Hansel and Gretel, Little Red Riding Hood and The Story of Little Suck-a-Thumb, it opens on a moonlit path as two children (Ms. Oren and Mr. Heffelfinger) hold hands as they timidly make their way forward. The path opens to more light, and the two scamper about, in that loose, playful way only children can manage. (Thank heavens Mr. Peugh didn’t give the dance a balletic style.)
As they cavort and poke fingers at one another, two adults appear: their parents? It’s easy to tell who’s who: the girl wears white ruffles and pantaloons, the boy lederhosen and suspenders, the father orange and brown waistcoat and breeches and the mother a rust, tight-fitting dirndl.
The adults’ encounter is much more aggressive and unruly: Mr. Orlando grabbing Ms. Haggard by the neck, slamming her to the floor or swinging her high. She’s no pansy, however, with her face as expressive as her body, full of scowls, grimaces, and ironic, mocking looks. Their movement has a clownish, awkward feel, as though a few hinges in their joints have fallen away.
Out of nowhere, the Wolf sidles in, dragging a sack that holds his first victim, one leg visible. He leaves…and for the 25 minutes of so, variations of these actions reappear in nonsensical, capricious order: the Wolf wreaks terror repeatedly, the innocent victims scamper about oblivious the Wolf reappears—and so it goes.
Giving added drama to Big Bad Wolf was Roma Flowers’ splendid mood-altering lighting; Susan Austin’s detailed 18th-century costumes and most impressive of all, original music by Southern Methodist University graduate Branson Carson. The music conveys menace, trepidation, glee and joy and everything in between.
» 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.