Q&A: Joshua Peugh

Photo: Brian Guilliaux

The associate choreographer of the Bruce Wood Dance Project talks about his new piece Slump, his time abroad and his take on the Dallas dance scene.

Dallas — The Dallas dance community is getting revved up for the second season of the Bruce Wood Dance Project which features new works by Artistic Director Bruce Wood and Associate Choreographer Joshua Peugh.

Peugh is no stranger to Dallas. He attended Southern Methodist University where he received a degree in dance performance and English literature. After graduation Peugh joined the Universal Ballet Company in South Korea where he performed soloist and feature roles in works by Ohad Naharin and Christopher Wheeldon. He co-founded Dark Circles Contemporary Dance in Seoul and has had his work featured in the Seoul Fringe Festival, Seoul Dance Collection, ChangMu International Dance Festival and in SMU dance concerts.

After almost six years in South Korea, Peugh moved back to the U.S. in December 2011 to join the BWDP as associate choreographer. The Dallas dance community got a taste of Peugh’s eccentric style during a Modern dance class at Dance Planet 16, presented by the Dance Council of North Texas.

TheaterJones asks Joshua Peugh about the inspiration for his new piece Slump, working with the Bruce Wood dance troupe and the opportunities Dallas provides dancers and choreographers.

The BWDP will return to the Montgomery Arts Theater at Booker T. Washington High School for the Performing and Visual Arts June 21-24, 2012. Program 1 will be June 21 and 23 at 8 p.m. and Program 2 June 22 at 8 p.m. and June 24 at 2 p.m.

TheaterJones: What impact did your time in South Korea have on your dancing?

Joshua Peugh: It had a huge impact on my dancing. When I went to Korea the company I was working for was a very classical ballet company that did all the big Russian ballets such as Giselle, Swan Lake and The Nutcracker. So, my ballet technique obviously went up, but one of the reasons I went to work with the company was so I could work with Ohad Naharin and Nacho Duato.

I didn’t get cast in the Duato piece, but I did get cast in the Ohad piece and he has a very different style of moving that I wasn’t familiar with at the time. It’s based on a lot of improvisation and natural movement; not so much about lines and that kind of stuff. So, his ideas about movement, art and production completely changed the way I thought about dance and what I was doing and how I was moving.

The longer I stayed in Korea and the more performances I saw I started to see a trend toward really flashy, gimmicky pieces that didn’t have a lot of dancing. So, basically what happened was I started making the dances that I wanted to be seeing. Something a little bit lighter; something that had a sense of humor; something that had some movement to it and not just moving furniture around the stage. Something that was more based in the human part of our art form which is the movement and communication of the body. That’s how I’ve gotten to where I am now in terms of the aesthetic that I like and why I am so similar to Bruce and why he found it so valuable to ask me to come work for his company.

How did you and Bruce Wood connect?

I submitted my work for the SMU’s 100 th anniversary last year and Bruce was on the judging panel. After he saw my work he contacted me and we arranged to meet when I came to Dallas. While I was at SMU he came to my very last rehearsal and afterward said he would love for me to make a piece for his company next year. He asked me how much a plane ticket from Korea would cost and told me to put him on my schedule and then he left. Ten minutes later he calls to tell me he brought me a plane ticket so I better be sure I could come back in June. It literally happened that fast.

When I got back to Korea something had changed in terms of what I was seeing in the dancers in Korea and what I was seeing in the dancers I taught at SMU. I had been in Korea for almost six years and I was thinking maybe it was time to move back to the States. So, I spoke to Bruce about maybe coming back a little earlier than May or June and he said let me talk to my Board because I would like to make you resident choreographer.

Was it challenging for the Bruce Wood dancers to adapt to your style of movement?

Peugh teaching a group of students at Dance Planet 16. Photo: Kevin Chung

Because the style that I have is based on the individual and their fantasies about movement and authenticity it’s a very personal way of moving. I give them movement, but the way it is interpreted is going to be a little bit different on everybody. Certain things I care about in terms of the thought that goes into the wrist and in the neck is kind of hard for some of the dancers because they’re trained differently.

Some of the dancers I worked with in Korea were hip-hop dancers so they hadn’t had ballet training. So, the way that they move is a little different. One of the dancers, Dong-Hyeong Kim, is actually a hip-hopper I brought with me from Korea. I don’t want to change the way the dancers here work or the way my dancers work in Korea. There’s something very human about it being different for everybody.

Do you prefer to come into rehearsal with a plan or do you like to work on the spot?

The way I like to choreograph is I don’t like to come in with my mind completely set on something. I don’t want to have everything done in my head. If you can’t incorporate the personality and the movement style of the dancers you’re working with then it’s going to feel a little bit phony when they it.

It’s going to feel phony for the dancers themselves and also the people watching. If you eliminate all the language and all the ways we communicate the most basic form of communication is body language. We all have the same way of telling when somebody’s anger or sad. We can sense these things. Bruce and I think of movement as the ultimate form of communication. The magic of dance happens when the people who are watching this artificial thing can forget that it’s artificial and live inside of it.

Are there any particular exercises you do with the company to help them loosen up?

Ohad Naharin, the Israeli choreographer I worked with in Korea, has this movement language that he created for his company called Gaga and what I do is kind of based off that. It’s about trying to get the dancers to be really sensitive to the way each joint is moving. Also, to be sensitive about letting the movement that you’re doing be the feeling in your body instead of letting the feeling create the movement. For example, if you ask a dancer to be sexy she would probably start wiggling her butt or whatever. But that would automatically look artificial because it’s created out of the idea we have about what sexy looks like instead of what it feels like from the inside.

BWDP dancers rehearsing Slump. Photo: Kevin Chung

What was the inspiration for your piece Slump?

Well, when I give the dancers a phrase I like to see the way they interact with it. The way their bodies feel uncomfortable with it or more comfortable with it. Or the things they naturally change to make it more comfortable and work from there. So, the piece I intended to make was based on the movement ideas that are in the word “slump.” When you hear the word slump everyone thinks of slouching or slumping against a wall.

So, I started making the piece based on that very heavy feeling in the body, specifically in the head and neck. But once I got the whole cast in the room and I had four girls and four guys the more we worked on it the more it turned into a courtship dance. They kind of move and interact with each other based on the ideas that we have about what a man or woman should do in a courtship situation. If we eliminate all of the socially constructed ideas we have about what we are suppose to do in certain situations that’s kind of what the piece is about.

How would you characterize the opportunities for dancers and choreographers in Dallas?

What I see right now in Dallas is a city that’s really working hard to promote its art scene particularly in dance. There’s a lot of support here for it. And there’s a place here for it for sure. I think it’s very likely Dallas can become a very big hub for dance if it gets the right attention I guess. It’s a great place for it.

Working in Seoul most of our performances where in small theaters and I know that it’s similar in New York. What I like about Dallas is it’s much easier to produce dance and the supply of patrons is bigger. I don’t see why Dallas can’t become a hub for dance other than the perceptions dancers have about needing to go to New York and Chicago to do stuff. But this ties into the mission of the BWDP which is to show that there is local talent that should be exported. So, we shouldn’t always be importing things here. We should be sending talent out and not sending talent away.

This Q&A was originally posted on TheaterJones.com.


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