Maverick Movers: Joshua L. Peugh

Dark Circles Contemporary Dance in Joshua L. Peugh’s Marshmallow.
Photo by Amitava Sarkar.

Dark Circles Contemporary Dance in Joshua L. Peugh's Marshmallow Photo by Amitava Sarkar.
Dark Circles Contemporary Dance in Joshua L. Peugh’s Marshmallow
Photo by Amitava Sarkar.

Joshua L. Peugh is the artistic director of Dark Circles Contemporary Dance in Dallas. Previous to that, he danced with Universal Ballet Company in South Korea, where he performed the works of Ohad Naharin, Christopher Wheeldon and others. He has also set works on BalletX, Dallas Black Dance Theatre II, Southern Methodist University, and Booker T. Washington HSPVA.  Most recently, Peugh created a new work on the Los Angeles-based Bodytraffic.

Next up, Dark Circles performs at The Dance Galley Festival in Huntsville on Oct. 17-18, and in New York City on Oct. 28 as part of the The Dance Gallery Level Up at the Ailey Citigroup Theater. In between rehearsals, Peugh, visited with A + C editor in chief Nancy Wozny about his career path and the work of running his Dallas-based dance ship.

A+C:  Your career is taking off. I may have even called you “the next big thing on the Dallas dance scene.” No pressure though. Any thoughts on your rise on the scene?

JOSHUA L. PEUGH:  I’ve always made choices instinctively (some very difficult, like leaving South Korea to move back to Dallas) in pursuit of what I love, which is to dance and create. The attention I’m getting will hopefully allow me to do that more easily and more often. I also hope it will bring Dark Circles new patrons and donors, so that we can continue to grow and push our boundaries as a company.

A+C:  I enjoy writing about your work, which embraces opposite of SYTYCD hyper-drive aesthetic, in that you create from a very subtle and nuanced palette. How do you describe your work?

JLP:  I encourage my dancers to trust understatement.

A+C:  Well said. I appreciate that quality in your work. It’s almost as if you also trust a kind of murkiness. You seem fine even if the audience wonders, “Did I just see that?”

JLP: When work is more sensitive, the audience is more likely to insert themselves in the fantasies we’re creating; they are more likely to get lost in the work.

A+C:  You do project a kind of dreaminess in your dances.

JLP: I want people to lose themselves in the stories I’m telling. That’s what I want when I go to see performances.

A+C:  You are performing Marshmallow at The Dance Gallery Festival. I enjoyed it at the Dallas DanceFest, especially how a simple gesture led into slippery couplings between the dancers. In your partnering I am never quite sure if these couples are breaking up or making up. Much of your work dwells, and I even say luxuriates, in an in-between realm. I am curious what sparked that piece, and if one of those gooey confections was involved at the get go?

JLP: The marshmallows came in about halfway through the process. The first rehearsal when we used the marshmallows was a sticky mess. We had marshmallows stuck to our clothes, our hair, our skin. Eventually, we decided to just eat them. In Korea and Japan, March 14th is White Day (originally Marshmallow Day), a holiday created in response to Valentine’s Day. On Valentine’s Day in those countries, women give gifts of chocolate to men. On White Day, men are socially obligated to give gifts to the women from whom they have received gifts. My work Marshmallow is the first part of a larger work called White Day that deals with the ideas of giving and receiving, romance and obligation, support and risk.

A+C:  Let’s get to your company, Dark Circles Contemporary Dance. When you announced your first season, how many events did you have in mind?

JLP: I had planned one triple bill in the fall and one in the spring, but I knew we would be traveling to perform at festivals both here and abroad in the meantime. The plan was to create new work for the triple bills and tour them between our Fall and Spring series.

A+C:  What constitutes a “season” for a young Dallas company like you?

JLP: I have used BalletX and other rep companies of similar size as models for DCCD. Those companies seem to have two or three runs locally each season.

BalletX in Joshua L. Peugh's Slump Photo by Erin Baiano.
BalletX in Joshua L. Peugh’s Slump
Photo by Erin Baiano.

A+C:  Can you talk about the difference between your outside gigs such as BalletX and Bodytraffic and the work you do with Dark Circles?

JLP: Those things are fantastic, but I think of it as a chance to push my boundaries as a choreographer and as a person. My dancers are all hand selected. When you create on your own company, you have the benefits of training and refining your dancers to suit your aesthetics. When you set or create work on other companies, you compromise and find new variations on what your voice is. It’s like professional development, and it is my personal source of income. I also love to travel and be lost for a while. It gives me perspective. I always fall in love with the people I create on other places, then I come home to my family and my support system.

A+C:  Do you feel as if you need to be showing new work at each Dallas event?

JLP: I love creating new work, and my dancers are so curious. Its important to me that we deepen old work, but I prefer creating new fantasies.

A+C:  Fantasies, that’s a good word for a dance. What dance are you dying to make?

JLP:   For my 30th  birthday I decided to give myself Rite of Spring, but that may go back on hold for a while. For my 40th , I want to give myself Romeo & Juliet (I love the Prokofiev.) I’ve learned that I’m more successful if I let my choreography emerge through the process; I prefer not to make many decisions before I begin. I try to create things honestly without prejudice allowing my instincts to control my decisions. I encourage the dancers (and myself) to let go of theatricality and allow the story to come through the movement itself. I’m interested in “the human comedy” and why we do what we do.