Tag Archives: Chad El-Khoury

Preview: Dark Circles Contemporary Dance’s Aladdin, Habibi

MAGIC MOVES

Dark Circles Contemporary Dance takes us to a whole new world in Joshua L. Peugh’s Aladdin, Habibi, part of AT&T Performing Arts Center’s Elevator Project.

DCCD Company Member Chadi El-Khoury. Photo: Brian Guilliaux

Dallas — Over the last seven years Dark Circles Contemporary Dance’s Artistic Director Joshua L. Peugh has wowed us again and again with his insightful and unique perspective on the human condition as well as today’s social norms. He transfers this information to his dancers using a combo of classical and modern movements infused with his own special blend of grounded footwork, knee-bruising floor work and happenstance partnering. His aesthetic demands that the dancers be comfortable in their own skin, yet open and vulnerable on stage.

Peugh is asking this and much more from the company in his first evening-length creation, Aladdin, حبيبي, part of the AT&T Performing Arts Center’s Elevator Project, Oct. 11-14, at the Wyly Theatre. The immersive 75-minute production focuses on American rhetoric regarding the Middle East and the stereotypes associated with Middle Eastern races and cultures. The work is based on the folk tale of “The Story of Aladdin” or “The Wonderful Lamp,” first written in The Book of One Thousand and One Nights (or The Arabian Nights).

Peugh says this process all began while browsing through a book store one Sunday morning. “I found a copy of Arabian Nights and the first line in the book is once upon a time in China. See when most people think of Aladdin they think of the 1992 Disney movie, but Aladdin was actually Chinese and the story was added later on by Frenchman Antoine Galland.”

He continues, “This was one aspect of the work. The other being company member Chadi El-khoury’s personal story, which includes his mom bringing him and his brother to America when he was 11 years old. We go to his Mom’s house every Sunday and she always calls her children Habibi, an Arabic endearment like ‘sweetheart,’ and it’s why the title of the work is called Aladdin, Habibi. We put the term in Arabic to signal to these people that their voice is being represented here.”

Peugh also points out that the work will feature a new score from Southern Methodist University’s Meadows School of the Arts alumnus Brandon Carson and will be performed live by a six-piece band. The production also includes costumes designed by Susan Austin and lighting by Bart McGeehon.

“I honestly didn’t know what the music was going to look like until I got started with the dancers, but we needed music before rehearsals began and so I ended up sending Brandon a list of plot points and asked him to make them musical numbers. We started off with 20 minutes of music and have gone back and forth a lot until we got to today’s product.”

In the work the dancers also double as stage hands, which was evident during the run through I saw at Preston Center Dance in Dallas last Wednesday morning. When not executing movement in the center, the dancers are constructing a tent out of canes and fabric, playing a game of cards and actively observing their surroundings, just to give a few examples.

Peugh explains, “We played a lot of theater games and one of them was about making yourself very present and aware and basing everything you do on things outside your circle so you are inviting things to happen instead of making them happen, which is already the principles that I run the company on in the first place, but we are now expanding that in different directions.”

The example he gives is in regard to the architecture of the room. Because this show follows a narrative, Peugh had his dancers do a lot of exercises that had to do with using what is there in the space. “Everything you see in the show is stuff that was laying around the studio. So, everything is sort of a found object and not a created one and that mirrors the world we are trying to create in this dance.”

There were a lot of moving parts just within the first 20 minutes that I got to see of the show, so I will try to break it down for you without giving too much away. Company veteran El-khoury portrays the role of Aladdin and we get to witness his inner struggle of questioning certain rules and customs of the culture that he was born into and then coming to America and trying to fit in here. El-khoury’s journey of discovery involves two genies: the genie of the ring played by Jaiquan Laurencin and the genie of the lamp played by Lena Oren.

El-khoury moves with laser focus and incredible control during rehearsal. Deep lunges, swirling arms and rhythmic hip isolations are at the crux of most of his individual movement phrases. Over the last two years he has put on some noticeable bulk and his technical execution and artistic depth continues to flourish with every new piece the company puts out.

“He works really hard to make this happen,” Peugh says about El-khoury’s artistic growth. “He still works a full time corporate job and he works really hard to dance the way he wants. He has grown incredibly in the last several years. He’s fighting for it and he really loves dancing and it give him pleasure so that’s ultimately where it all starts from in the first place.”

Peugh admits that the creative process for this show has been a completely new experience for him. He doesn’t like to give his dancers too many details because he likes to see how the dancers take the material and make it their own. So, sitting down with the dancers after every rehearsal to talk about the narrative is really a foreign concept for him. Peugh says on the second day of rehearsals he asked the dancers to bring in a list or make a presentation to the group about the question ‘What is Middle Eastern?’ and from there he had the dancers take their lists and make a movement phrase based off one plotline in the story, and that is how the choreography for the show came to fruition.

“It was a really organic process,” Peugh says. “This has been one of the most fun, creative processes I have ever had. I have learned a ton and I am super proud of the work everyone has done. Everyone has put in a lot more than a few hours of learning steps.”

>This preview was originally posted on TheaterJones.com.

 

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Dancing in Tongues

Fabio Liberti works with DCC on Here Is Not There. Photo: Dark Circles Contemporary Dance
Dark Circles Contemporary Dance explores movement through text in Italian choreographer Fabio Liberti’s Here Is Not There, part of the company’s Spring Series in Fort Worth.
Fort Worth — The number of new works being produced in the area by international emerging artists continues to climb as Italian choreographer Fabio Liberti gets ready to make his U.S. debut with Dallas-based Dark Circles Contemporary Dance (DCCD) this weekend. His new work, Here Is Not There, explores the underlying meaning behind different individual’s responses to the question “how are you,” as well as our constant struggle to find balance in our lives, which the dancers depict through a variety of modern and contemporary movements and individual monologues based off past memories. “The question ‘how are you’ refers to those moments when out past and present meet and how we feel when we are trying to find balance between our past and present lives,” Liberti says. “I have always been interested in the combination of text and dance, so it was a natural choice for me to use both in this piece for DCCD. They are a talented group of dancers and it has been great experience working with them.”

The text-driven work features six dancers (DCCD Company Members David Cross, Chadi El-Khoury, Alex Karigan Farrior, Sarah Hammonds, Artistic Director Joshua L. Peugh and Kelsey Rohr) and includes minimal music by Marguerite Monnot and Nancy Sinatra. Liberti’s Here Is Not There will premiere at DCCD’s annual Spring Series, April 29-May 1, at the Erma Lowe Hall Studio Theatre on the Texas Christian University Campus in Fort Worth. The program also includes Peugh’s prom-inspired version of Igor Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring which the company premiered at Dallas City Performance Hall in March.

Since graduating the Codarts-Rotterdam Dance Academy in Italy, Liberti has performed professionally with Conny Hanssen Danst in Holland, Stadttheater Hildesheim in Germany, Stadttheater Saint Gallen in Switzerland, AIEP-Ariella Vidach in Italy and most recently with Danish Dance Theatre in Denmark. He received third place at the Copenhagen International Choreography competition in 2013 and received the Critics’ Award at the Hannover International Choreography competition in Germany. It was at the Hannover competition where Liberti meet Peugh backstage and their artistic friendship only blossomed from there.

Watching DCCD rehearse Liberti’s Here Is Not There at Southern Methodist University back in January, it was easy to see what drew these two curious minds to one another. Liberti and Peugh both have similar movement tendencies such as expansive gesturing, heavy tailbone traveling steps and the use of unlikely body parts like the stomach or elbow to connect with one another, as well as a knack for finding humor in even the most intense situations. Authenticity also plays an important role in both choreographers’ creative processes. “I am always searching for authenticity in my movement,” Liberti says. “So, I add in what I like, but I also keep in the personality of the person I am working with and what feels good to them when it comes to the choreography.” In Here Is Not There, Liberti accomplishes this feat by assigning each dancer a composition task to which he later adds more layers too himself. He also sent out a questionnaire to the dancers prior to arriving in Dallas which Liberti used as the foundation for the text in the work. The responses, which Liberti says could be answered truthfully or not, became poignant monologues reflecting on specific moments and memories from each dancer’s past and present.

While the idea of combining movement and spoken word is not uncommon in the modern dance world, this is the first time DCCD is exploring this particular avenue. When asked about the challenges of moving and talking at the same time company member Hammonds says, “It was definitely a learning experience as I am not the best at memorizing text. Kelsey and I spent a lot of time working on the text we have to say together. We had to sit down and break down which words we were going to emphasize and which ones we weren’t.” The section Hammonds is referring to is what the group calls the twin section where Hammonds and Rohr reflect on the various questions twins get asked such as do you finish each other sentences and do you even like each other in a sing song cadence while Cross and El-Khoury slink, roll and army crawl across the floor decked out in matching striped tops. “The challenge for us was to execute the phrasing without thinking about what is coming next while also keeping pace with the text, but not relying on it for movement cues,” Cross says.

>>This preview was originally posted on TheaterJones.com.

>>Also check out my preview of Josh Peugh’s Rite of Spring.

 

Dysfunctional Beauty

Photo: Courtesy of DCCD
Photo: Courtesy of DCCD

Montreal-based choreographer James Gregg brings his eccentric style and unique sense of humor to Dallas in his new work, Boonflood, U.S.A, part of Dark Circles Contemporary Dance’s Winter Series.

Fort Worth — Joshua L. Peugh has a knack for finding choreographers who are just as curious and quirky as him and who possess their own distinct voice to come to Dallas to work with his company Dark Circles Contemporary Dance (USA). Peugh looks for guest choreographers who have his similar ‘sight’ when it comes to the creative process, but who can also challenge the dancers physically and intellectually. Over the past two years the U.S. branch of the South Korea-based DCCD has successfully introduced North Texas audiences to choreographers such as Chad El-Khoury and Mike Esperanza, whose works were enthusiastically received by critics. DCCD is hoping to continue this trend with Montréal-based choreographer James Gregg’s new work, Boonflood, U.S.A. The piece, which uses six DCCD company members including Peugh, is part of DCCD’s Winter Series which runs Jan. 29-31 at Erma Lowe Hall, Studio Theatre on the Texas Christian University Campus in Fort Worth.

An Oklahoma native, Gregg moved to Chicago in 1999 to dance with River North Chicago Dance Company. He was with the company for several years before moving to Montréal where he currently dances with Les Ballet Jazz de Montréal. He has also danced with RUBBERBANDance and Azure Barton and Artists. Last year Gregg was one of the winners of Ballet Austin’s New America Talent/Dance choreographic competition for his work The Space Between. Peugh and Gregg met last year in Philadelphia where they were both setting pieces for BalletX.

While watching a run-though of Boonflood, U.S.A. at Preston Center Dance on Sunday afternoon it was easy to see why Peugh was drawn to Gregg’s work. They both have a penchant for distorted body shapes, whimsical gesturing and full body contact partnering. They also find humor in the most simplistic of tasks such as walking, hugging and staring. Gregg displays this side of himself in the opening section of Boonflood, U.S.A. Dressed in folksy attire, denim button downs, beige pants and floral patterned dresses, the six dancers shuffle across the stage frozen in what appears to be an awkward family portrait. They go back and forth about five times, dropping off a member of the family each time, which causes them to shift their pose. The music is an original score by Austin-based composer Jordan Moser that starts with an upbeat banjo ditty, then morphs into unsettling heartbeats before finally bringing back the banjo in a very complex electronic remix of sorts.

Whereas Peugh’s movement choices typically emphasize a certain body part such as an arm, shoulder or hip, Gregg leans more toward full body motion as evident with Sarah Hammonds’ open-chested releases and loose leg lifts during her solo. Gregg advises her to think about compressing the muscle so it doesn’t look floppy. The group sections are where we see Gregg’s true chorographic genius come out to play. Having been working in Montreal for the past 10 years, Gregg says he has gotten to experience everything from classical and contemporary styles of dance to more avant-garde and risqué ways of moving. In the groups sections of this pieces Gregg plays around a lot with the texture (i.e. sharp, weighted, calculated, loving) as well as group partnering.

For example, in the waltz section the three couples go from pushing and pulling at one another to placing their head on the other person’s shoulder as they spin around with their arms extended out. In the group partnering section everyone stays connected as Peugh supports fellow dancer Alex Karigan Farrior as she pushes off someone’s back with her feet to end up on Chad El-Khoury’s shoulders. As this is happening the entire group is steadily moving upstage while staying connected as a whole. These extremely intense sections are balanced out with more whimsical moments such as the family photo session where everyone strikes a June Cleaver pose before returning back to their true characters. Everyone in the audience can relate to this dysfunctional family theme. And while at certain points the piece evokes feelings of grief, anger and isolation Gregg says there is an uplifting quality to it all.

The DCCD Winter Series also features two new works by Peugh, Critics Of The Morning Song and You and Me. The first is a duet between Peugh and Farrior which premiered in New York City last October at The Ailey Citigroup Theater. The piece is quintessential Peugh; isolated body gestures, rhythmic pedestrian movements, body music and of course uniquely comical. You and Me includes a minimal techno soundtrack, vintage arcade sounds and features Peugh’s knee-bruising floor work and primitive body positions.

This preview was originally posted on TheaterJones.com.

Review: Funky Fresh, Dark Circles Contemporary Dance

Photo: Sharen Bradford/The Dancing Image
Photo: Sharen Bradford/The Dancing Image

In its second-season opener, Dark Circles Contemporary Dance showcases its expanded movement vocabulary and comedic flair in three very different premieres.

Fort Worth — Anyone who has seen Joshua L. Peugh’s work knows that he is not the type of choreographer that takes himself too seriously. And thank goodness for that, for Peugh’s topsy-turvy choreography and unique sense of humor has been a most welcomed addition to the North Texas dance scene. A fact that was reinforced this past weekend with three packed performances of Dark Circles Contemporary Dance’s second season opener,Beautiful Knuckleheads, at the Sanders Theatre at the Fort Worth Community Arts Center that led the company to add an additional fourth show on Saturday afternoon.

The program opened with Chad El-Khoury’s Words In Motion. El-Khoury’s slower, more simplistic movement choices were a nice change of pace from Peugh’s multi-layered movements. Dressed in jeans and tanks in hues of cream, blue, green and red, the six dancers remained stationary for the first section while exploring their range of motion side-to-side and up-and-down in the form of hand stands, tilts, and upper body extensions. The dancers’ clean lines and moments of stillness gave the audience the impression that they were actually spelling out words with their bodies. As the dancers began moving around the stage they added in a few dynamic surprises such as a double coupe turn into a leg extension or gliding backwards across the stage on all fours. The tranquil movement was accompanied by the unyielding beat of Hunter Long’s “Without Any Considerable Proportion.”

Intensely alluring and pleasantly dark, Nucleus depicted the various ways energy affects individuals and groups. Inspired by solar panels, choreographer Mike Esperanza used geometric patterns, action and reaction modes of motion, continuous physical connections and special lighting to emulate the sun’s energy. Clad in basic white, the five dancers ran, rolled, gyrated, and manipulated one another through a series of primal gestures and partnering skills. Esperanza’s graphic design background added dimension to the piece and was most effective in the section where Salvatore Bonilla shined a flashlight on Kelsey Rohr as she erotically lip-synced to Nina Simone’s version of “I Put a Spell On You.”

Esperanza also embraced the bareness of the performance space by having the dancers slide up and down the stage left wall while performing a series of isolated body movements reminiscent of those seen in a nightclub. This particular section was a testament to how an individual’s energy, while not necessarily pretty in this case, can still be mesmerizing. The opposite is also true which was beautifully showcased by Dexter Green and Steffani Lopez as they melted into each other’s arms and began slow dancing near the end of the number.

The performance concluded with Peugh’s ’80s pop-inspired piece, Beautiful Knuckleheads. Dancing to the catchy tunes of “Kiss On My List,” “Maneater,” “Sara Smile” and “Private Eyes” by Hall and Oates, Peugh combined ‘80s moves (step touches, pelvis pulses and body rolls) with his own quick-witted and contorted style (loose limb jumps, knee-bruising floor work and comical gesturing) for a fresh and funky performance. During “Kiss On My List” the dancers freeze and kiss their closed fists as they stare down the audience. Peugh was in his element bopping his head, caressing his body and nuzzling Emily Bernet during “Maneater.” His partnering section with Green featured counter-balance holds and quirky flips, dips and spins, all signatures of Peugh’s. His comedic timing is also gaining strength, which was evident throughout the work from the ladies’ Jane Fonda leg lifts in “Maneater” to the group’s open-mouthed facial expressions in “Private Eyes.”

This show was a defining moment for Dark Circles Contemporary Dance. The company has accomplished in one season what many established North Texas companies have been trying to do for years, and that is reaching a younger audience base. This can be attributed to DCCD’s strong presence on social media and young group of dancers, but it’s more likely due to Peugh’s eccentric personality and fresh ideas that just naturally appeal to a younger crowd. The biggest challenge for the company moving forward is going to be finding a larger venue for its future performances.

This review was originally posted on TheaterJones.com.