Addison — Counting under their breaths in quick sixes to the trippy sounds of a marimba, the seven members of Dallas-based Dark Circles Contemporary Dance (DCCD) move cautiously around the space in a number of creepy, flat-footed walks featuring hunchbacked spines and tense hand positions. As this is happening Joshua L. Peugh, artistic director of DCCD, leans over and whispers in my ear that Gabrielle told them to imagine they were stepping on clam shells. With that tidbit of information the dancers’ intentions immediately became clearer. Suddenly, the dancers break away in one’s and two’s to execute a series of awkward shapes and broken balances that travel haphazardly around the room. At about the 25th count of sixes the creepy walks return as the dancers make their way upstage into a new formation. Even in its early stages Gabrielle Lamb’s new work, Can’t Sleep But Lightly, is already drawing the dancers away from their preconceived notions of what their bodies can do by introducing them to an array of new movement possibilities.
As his record has shown with names like Mike Esperanza, James Gregg and Gregory Dolbashian, Peugh prefers to work with choreographers whose movement philosophies align with his own and who can also challenge his dancers in new and exciting ways. So, he was extremely excited when he found out New-York based choreographer Lamb had a break in her schedule around Christmas to come down to Dallas and work with the company. “I have always admired her as a person and her work, which really complements what DCCD does, but also challenges the dancers in a good way,” Peugh says. “For example, she is all about specificity in her gestures and clarity in the minutia of things, which is different from how I train my dancers, which is to kind of break them into a million different pieces.” He adds, “This experience has pushed a lot of the dancers to become more observant in order to maintain the details of the work.”
Winner of a Princess Grace Award for Choreography, Lamb resides in New York City where she launched her own dance company, Pigeonwing Dance in 2016. A native of Savannah, Ga., Lamb trained at the Boston Ballet School and was a longtime soloist at Les Grands Ballets Canadiens de Montreal. In 2009 she joined Morphoses in New York where she got to perform lead roles in works by George Balanchine, Jiri Kylian, Mats Ek, Ohard Naharin, Nacho Duato, Luca Veggetti, Shen Wei and Pontus Lidberg.
Lamb’s dance works have been presented by Hubbard Street 2, the Royal Winnipeg Ballet, BalletX, Sacramento Ballet, Milwaukee Ballet, Ballet Austin, Ballet Memphis, Jacob’s Pillow, Dance Theatre of Harlem, SUNY Purchase Conservatory, SALT Contemporary Dance (Utah), Dance on Camera at Lincoln Center, the American Dance Festival and the ARTV and BRAVO networks of Canada. DCCD’s upcoming performance marks the first time her work will be showcased in Texas.
All of the movement sequences I saw during my visit with DCCD at Preston Center Dance the week before Christmas contained a great amount of buoyancy, which Peugh says is fitting as the short story Lamb shared with the dancers was about flood waters coming into a house and eventually overtaking it. “It’s probably due to the story, but every time I see the all the beautiful images in this piece, they just wash right over me.”
Lamb’s blend of balletic lines and alien-esque body shapes mixed with simple human connections also brings out an edginess that I have yet to see from this cropping of DCCD dancers, which includes seasoned members performing alongside first and second year dancers. During rehearsal Peugh did mention this is the first time that this grouping of dancers have worked with a guest choreographer, which he says has been a great growing experience for everyone, but especially the newer dancers such as Victoria Daylor, Nicholas Heffelfinger and Jaiquan Laurencin. “These dancers continue to gain more confidence in themselves and are starting to really come into their own as artists,” Peugh says. “As a whole, this is the most cohesive and mellow group that I have worked with, which has enabled us to make deeper, more thoughtful work than in the past.”
Looking on as Lamb works with the dancers, it’s apparent she is a very patient and pensive choreographer. The music, which is composed by Southern Methodist University’s Meadows School of the Arts Alumnus Brandon Carson, maintains a constant beat with little to no breaks, so it is easy for the dancers to become lost in the counts if they are not paying close attention. To counter this Lambs tells the dancers to focus on the subtle cues in the music. For example, after a moment of stillness Lamb says, “Wait to move on the bell and not the tone.” She also encourages the group by saying, “As you get to know the music better you will arrive to your places at the same time.”
What I like most about Lamb’s piece is its lack of physical partnering; instead it’s as if an invisible string connects the dancers and when one moves the other reacts to it in such a way that the movement does not appear forced. And when the dancers do make physical contact it’s in the most unexpected and endearing ways such as a head caressing down another’s shoulder or a foot pressing down on one’s back, guiding that person to floor. I also appreciate Lamb’s use of negative space when it comes to the dancers’ interactions, which adds a fascinating peculiarity to the relationships happening in front of me.
Along with Lamb’s piece, Peugh will also present two new works, Yellow, which honors his ties to South Korean culture and Rattletrap, a depiction of his adolescent years growing up in Las Cruces, New Mexico. You can see all three works at WaterTower Theatre’s Detour: A Festival of New Works, which runs March 1-4 at Addison Theatre Centre with Dark Circles Contemporary Dance presenting on Saturday evening.
» Katie Dravenstott is a freelance writer and dance instructor in Dallas. Visit her blog at www.kddance.wordpress.com
Thursday, March 1
4pm - Facebook Live playwrights panel moderated by Mark Lowry of TheaterJones.com
7:30pm – Wally World by Isaac Gomez (Main Stage)
Friday, March 2
8pm – Prism Movement Theatre presents As Dreams Are Made On (Studio)
10pm – Veteran Children (Studio)
Saturday, March 3
2pm – Cry Havoc Theatre Company presents Sex Ed (Main Stage)
5pm – Origin Story by Nathan Alan Davis (Studio)
8pm – Dark Circles Contemporary Dance presents 3 New Creations (Main Stage)
10pm – Movies That Should Be Musicals: My Best Friend’s Wedding (Studio)
Sunday, March 4
2pm – All’s Well That Ends Well, a New American Translation by Virginia Grise (Studio)
5pm – Heaven’s Gates, Hell’s Flames by Janielle Kastner (Main Stage)
Detour festival passes are $40-$45; $10-$15 for individual devised works and late-night events; and free for individual staged readings.