FORT WORTH Perhaps the biggest compliment to be given Joshua L. Peugh is that in his short time as a professional choreographer in North Texas, he has proven that you can never know what to expect from him. That’s good.
The North Texas debut of American arm of his South Korea-based company Dark Circles Contemporary Dance last fall at Fort Worth’s Sanders Theater was one of the year’s dance highlights. He showed us a different side of his work than we had previously seen in his one season as an artistic associate for Bruce Wood Dance Project.
With Dark Circles second show of its inaugural season here, which opened Thursday night and continues through Saturday at the Sanders, he again surprises.
The concert, called White Day, opened with a world premiere from guest choreographer Louis Acquisto, a San Francisco-based dancer whom Peugh met when they were both studying dance at Southern Methodist University. For anyone who knows the local modern dance scene, this work, Nemesis Variations, feels as provocative and new-to-us as Peugh’s jjigae did in the fall.
In the five variations of Nemesis, a large projected timer counts down the time in progressively longer sections, the final being at eight minutes. The first and shortest featured death metal music, the dancers thrashing with choreographic flair. The music moved to a more light-hearted tune from Sam Cooke, then to silence, and finally to the contemporary jazz of BadBadNotGood. In each, the fight against the clock becomes palpable as anxiety rises in both the dancers and the audience. In the later sections, the choreographer, sitting on the first row, calls out “stop” at various times, with the dancer becoming frustrated but continuing on. It certainly keeps us on edge, and if the movement isn’t always fresh-feeling, the concept is. There’s always a deadline and never enough time.
Peugh’s latest, a longer piece in two parts, Marshmallow and White Day, is named for a Korean and Japanese holiday similar to Valentine’s Day. Women give their men gifts, and the men reciprocate threefold. The dance is playful and, especially in the pas de deux between Peugh and Jennifer Mabus, shows that Peugh has studied his 20th-century contemporary dance predecessors well and has his own vocabulary and voice to add to the lineage.
He loves to explore gender and the movement that defines them, at least in the eyes of the public. In one section, the dancers are feeding each other marshmallows — whimsical nourishment indeed. In another, the women slowly scatter confetti (flower petals?) across the floor. It’s all part of the rituals and games of mating, from the getting-to-know-you awkwardness to the thrill of the chase to the comfort and joy of being in love.
What makes it all the better is that his dancers, many SMU students or alumni, have solid technique and work well together as an ensemble. White Day may not feel as bold as Dark Circle’s fall program, but it’s still fresh and a welcome addition to a scene that has struggled to find standout modern choreographers.