Addison — Joshua L. Peugh, artistic director of Dark Circles Contemporary Dance, somehow manages to throw in the unexpected into his concerts, yet at the same make one realize that it should have been expected all along.
Take the opening to 3 New Creations, presented at WaterTower Theatre’s inaugural Detour: A Festival of New Work, for instance. As patrons enter the house, a small sign that may not have been noticed by everyone informs of brief nudity. The sound of chimes and a stage covered with yellow bits of paper and various items of clothing greet audience members trickling in to find their seats.
About 15 minutes before curtain (a loose term, considering there’s no discernable proscenium), one of the female dancers enters topless and begins to put on more of her costume. A bit of murmuring can be heard, but it’s not too surprising, given the nature of the festival. Sounds of surprise grow a bit louder as a fully nude male dancer steps onto the stage to start the same dressing process, which brings up the observation of why one was more unexpected than the other.
Back to the dance. With house lights up and people continuing to enter the theater, more dancers arrive in various stages of undress, until all stand or sit in a white, martial-arts style pants and top. The first work of the evening, Yellow, obviously begins.
Based on Peugh’s time in South Korea and the country’s tradition of cooking the gingko fruit that falls from yellow-leafed trees, the vocabulary deviates slightly from his usual fare, but the dancers’ shapes hold some familiarity. Deep lunges and second-position pliés firmly ground each performer before they maneuver into a variety of awkward positions, sometimes with Butoh-like slowness. The dancers execute the choreography deliberately, delicately, but at times the mood grows more primal, almost animalistic, yet one can’t pinpoint which type of creature might be represented. Of the three, it’s definitely the oddest.
Guest artist Gabrielle Lamb debuts her first work with the company, and props to Peugh for including a female choreographer in the bill. Can’t Sleep But Lightly carries an air of tension, beginning with quick lateral movements as the dancers enter the stage. An original score by Brandon Carson provides various percussion to keep the pace up.
Distinct hand gestures and a fantastic use of manipulation by Victoria Daylor, Lena Oren, and Hattie Haggard make this one stand out from other works in their repertoire. The successive movement manipulations produce an intriguing visual effect that looks like a living, breathing Rube Goldberg machine, with multiple uses of meandering, snake-like movements.
Ensemble moments shine with a tight cohesion, yet each dancer maintains his or her own personalities throughout. Chadi El-Koury delivers the most intense expression, while Nicholas Heffelfinger remains curious and thoughtful. Others find a sense of curiosity amidst the slithering movements, but the one driving force throughout is their intense connections with each other.
Peugh’s Rattletrap rounds out the program, and delves into somewhat familiar territory with more of a relaxed feel and choreography reminiscent of previous works. Carson composes for this one, as well, with a bluesy, country rock-style set of songs that would’ve been much better played live. The sound coming out of the speakers lives up to the name “canned music.”
While the music and choreography are on the lively side, they both still give a barely visible hint that something is not quite right. Based on the writings of Larry McMurty and drawing some inspiration from his upbringing in a small desert town, three ladies in casual floral dresses and swing around with three men clad in jeans, belts, and plaid shirts. Amidst the two-stepping, smiles, and slow dancing, an unsettled atmosphere pervades, even with theatrical expression typical of Peugh’s early choreography. Sensuality and intimacy abound, but playfully
It’s the most technical of the three, and although the dancers’ skill shines through all the works, this one highlights them even more. Jaiquan Laurencin delivers some impressive jumps, and Heffelfinger demonstrates almost inhuman transitions to and from the floor. A sprightly Haggard, a flirtatious Daylor, and a devious Oren swish around the stage, and Orlando Agawin displays an articulate solo much like Peugh’s in Slump.
The concert fit well within the scope of the festival, and also within the more serious trend his new works have followed. While Rattletrap lightens the mood a little, it might be nice to see more future works revisit some of the humor and theatricality for which Peugh is known.