Tag Archives: Preston Center Dance

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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A Girl Thing: Preview of Bombshell Dance Project’s Like A Girl Performance

Bombshell Dance Project gets ready to showcase three new works, including program headliner Like A Girl at Moody Performance Hall today!

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Bombshell Dance Project presents Like A Girl this weekend. Photo: Courtesy of Bombshell Dance Project.

Dallas — The inspiration for Like A Girl, one of two new works by Bombshell Dance Project’s Emily Bernet and Taylor Rodman, focuses on what it means to do something like a girl.

“We started out with the phrase “fight like a girl,” but then it expanded to doing anything like a girl and what does that mean especially now that there is such a boom in strong women,” Bernet says. “It’s not to say no progress has been made. It’s more like what does it mean now that we’ve made all of this progress?”

Rodman adds, “It’s interesting because we started off with a phrase that is kind of aggressive and then over the past year it has evolved into so much more, like what does it mean to be sensitive or what does it mean to be feminine like a girl?”

To accomplish their task the bombshells are incorporating some of what they learned during a fight choreography workshop with Prism Movement Theater co-founder Jeff Colangelo into their choreographic process, which features the duos’ penchant for large, powerful movement guided by contact improv, images and feelings. In this particular piece the bombshell’s movement choices are also being influenced by feedback from an online survey that asked questions such as what does it mean to be feminine and name something you believe in fighting for. The bombshells have also added to their ranks for this piece, with fellow female powerhouses Haley Tripp, Alyx Henigman and Alex Clair.

Emily Bernet and Taylor Rodman of Bombshell Dance Project. Photo: Katie Bernet

I caught up with the dance besties during one of their recent rehearsals at Preston Center Dance in which they candidly talked about their experience with fight choreography and what they have in store for the rest of their Like A Girl program, which takes place June 22 at Moody Performance Hall in Dallas.

“It was not an easy class,” Rodman says about Colangelo’s fight choreography workshop. “It was hard to keep it pure because it was so movement-based. It required us to find the balance between anticipating and not anticipating what was happening.”

Bernet laughs, “Oh yeah! We kept getting in trouble for dancing it.”

The class focused primarily on stances and how one should advance and back up and then progressed into more detailed techniques like how to throw a punch. From there more partnering was added and the students essentially made what dancers would call a phrase, according to Rodman. And while the pair will not be performing any of the fighting techniques, they say the experience has definitely impacted their creative process for Like A Girl. “The experience really opened us to the elements of listening and the reactive element in which you try not to anticipate what’s to come,” Bernet says. “The level of physicality involved and this quietness-from-behind-like approach also were aspects of the class that have stuck with me.”

The Bombshell’s second new work, All The More, was inspired by Harry Styles’ “Kiwi” music video and features a cast of 12 students from around the Dallas-Fort Worth area. The applicants were required to submit a three-minute improvisational video and it just so happened that all the submissions the bombshells received were from female dancers, a detail the ladies say works great for this show. “It was opened to everyone, but we would have picked females anyway for this particular show because we are exploring something that is really unique to females and so, that is kind of what we are going for this time,” Bernet says. She adds that the duo is working on some ideas for incorporating men into their work later down the road.

The third piece on the program is New York-based choreographer Amanda Krische’s LUNA. Rodman met Krische at YoungArts Miami during their senior year of high school, and they really got to know each other when they were selected as presidential scholars and spent two weeks together in Washington D.C. The two remained in contact throughout college and when the bombshells decided it was time to bring in another choreographer Rodman says Krische was always at the top of their list.

Krische graduated from Purchase College with a BFA in dance and currently resides in New York City where she works with her own set of dancers. Her choreography has been shown in such venues as LaGuardia High School, the Dance Theater Lab at Purchase College, SUNY, the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, Gallim Dance, the Actors Arts Fund and Ailey Citigroup Theater. Her work mainly focuses on the physical history of the body and its connection to memory. This is the first time her work will be presented in Dallas.

“We both learned a lot from her choreographic process,” Rodman says about their time with Krische. “She came in with one little phrase and floor pattern and turned that tiny nugget into a 10-minute dance in only four days. …Amanda works a lot with the ideas of memory, and when we were working with her she was really specific about creating a world and how the movement exists within that world even to the point of what the temperature is and what you are looking at and what you see at different moments.”

The bombshells describes Krische’s piece as a slow burn due to the repetitive nature of the movement. The piece starts off with the two dancers walking a specific number of steps in a predetermined pathway around the space before gestures, pauses and abrupt floor work are woven in to break up the monotony of their walks. The intensity of the piece builds as the dancers dig deep to maintain their high energy levels as the music changes from meditative to pulsating, which leads to an unexpected yet satisfying ending.

> This preview was originally posted on TheaterJones.com.

 

Preview: Bombshell Dance Project

Both Headshot - Photo credit Katie Bernet
Photo: Katie Bernet

Emily Bernet and Taylor Rodman of Bombshell Dance Project on their unique partnership and creating their first program in Dallas.

Dallas — Together, Emily Bernet and Taylor Rodman tenderly cup their faces before slowly moving their hands down their bodies in a mildly seductive manner to the sweet sound of Marilyn Monroe’s voice as she answers a reporter’s question about whether or not she is happy. “If anything I am genuinely miserable,” Monroe states as Bernet and Rodman walk, glide and jump from one side of the space to the other, stopping intermittently to engage each other in catch and release action and simple gesturing such as a hand to the chest or a head on the other person’s shoulder. As the music changes so does the dancers’ movement quality, which becomes more aggressive and robust before once again slowing down and eventually fading out.

Meant to Be Seen showcases both Bernet and Rodman’s classical and modern dance backgrounds as well as their curious nature and instinctual approaches to movement, which they explored deeper during their time with Dallas-based Dark Circles Contemporary Dance. The eight-minute duet also features the dancers’ penchant for more explosive and full-bodied movement, which the dance partners and best friends point out is the main reason they formed Bombshell Dance Project in 2016. “The name has an ironic ring to it since neither of us are blonde or very curvaceous,” Bernet says.

Rodman adds, “I just feel like the word ‘bombshell’ in itself is pretty universal and empowering, which ties in nicely with what we want to achieve with the company.”

So, it seems quite fitting that the two would gravitate to text and music by their movie icons Monroe and Aubrey Hepburn in their first company work, Meant to Be Seen. The piece will be presented along with There I Said It and Kismet in the Bombshells’ first Dallas program at the Sammons Center for the Arts on Oct. 20. When asked what ties these three works together Bernet says it’s not so much a theme as it is a feeling. “For the last year we have been caught up in this feeling of angst, but it’s contrasted,” Bernet explains. “We talk a lot about contrast and underlying feelings such as what something looks like versus what it is or how it feels. And also what people look like on the outside versus what’s on the inside.”

Bernet and Rodman met their sophomore year at Booker T. Washington High School for the Performing and Visual Arts, but say they didn’t get close until their junior year when they joined the repertory dance company. “We just clicked right away as friends and creatively speaking,” Bernet says. “We are both pretty easy going and are drawn to movement that is big and powerful more so than soft and structured.”

Meant to Be Seen. Photo: Lynn Lane

The two say that they never saw themselves as the balletic type—instead preferring the challenges and artistic freedom associated with modern and contemporary movement. “I never really saw the ballerina in me,” Bernet says. “I started in a competition studio, but the second I found modern and contemporary in high school and later in college, I knew that is where I belonged.”

Rodman shares a similar story. “My body is just not meant for ballet, which I am totally fine with because I think it has helped me find different pathways and areas that I can use my body and challenge myself in various ways, which really became evident in high school. I just always wanted to be moving really BIG!”

During high school both dancers also found the same mentor in Professor Kyle Richards. “He definitely helped me to trust in what I was creating and to not be afraid to make work,” Bernet says. “One of the first things I learned from him was that the work doesn’t have to be perfect.”

She adds, “He was also big on starting from text and using feelings for inspiration, which has definitely influenced our work.” Nodding in agreement Rodman adds, “He was always really good about telling us not to take ourselves too seriously because in high school you know all the pieces in the shows are going to be super dramatic and intense and he really pushed us to see the lighter side of creating movement.”

After graduation the dynamic duo parted ways, Bernet heading to Southern Methodist University’s Meadows School of the Arts, where she focused on modern dance and performance; with Rodman moving up north to attend Boston Conservatory, where she studied improvisational techniques and choreography. Bernet credits their diverse college experiences with adding more depth and intrigue to their rehearsal process, which she says has made the work something that it wouldn’t be without the two of them.

Explosive, aggressive and full-bodied are just a few of the choice terms Bernet and Rodman use to describe their movement, which the duo says they haven’t been able to do until now. Both dancers learned early on that opportunities to move in such a forceful way would be limited due to their gender, a realization that strongly irked Rodman. “The seed was planted in high school because I always seemed to be in a dress or standing in the wings wanting to do the men’s section because it was so full-bodied and aggressive, yet soft at times and very textured.” This archaic approach to the female’s role on stage really started to bother Rodman in college where she remembers learning the men’s sections on the side just to fulfill that void for more demanding movement.

For those unfamiliar with the general rules of classical and contemporary dance, Rodman explains that in a lot of the roles she has performed since high school she has either been asked to play the damsel in distress or the femme fatale. “I was either made to feel like I couldn’t complete this task without a partner by my side or asked to be overtly sexual in a non-sexual kind of way, whereas the men’s sections were always extremely big, exciting and used the entire stage.”

Walking into Preston Center Dance where the Bombshells were rehearsing a couple of weeks ago I knew I was in for a very relaxed and fun experience if the dancers giggling from down the hall was an indicator. Bernet and Rodman were very considerate of each other during the rehearsal, taking turns answering questions and later taking turns with suggestions or critiques when going over movement. The two could also communicate with one another using just a look, which they say is one of the advantages of being such close friends.

“As far as creating movement I think it has been easy for us because we know each other so well,” Bernet says. “When we work collaboratively a lot of the time I will do a move and then she will do a move and eventually it kind of blurs together.”

Rodman adds, “Just being the two of us in the room this first year has been great because we work so well together that most of the time we don’t need to talk we just keep moving.”

>This preview was originally posted on TheaterJones.com.

 

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.

At The Core

Photo: Courtesy of DCCD
Photo: Courtesy of DCCD

New York-based choreographer Mike Esperanza discusses working with Dark Circles Contemporary Dance USA on his new work NUCLEUS, part of the company’s Fall Series in Fort Worth.

Fort Worth — Inspiration can hit anywhere at any time. For New York-based Choreographer Mike Esperanza it happened one day while out for a walk when he took notice of the solar panels on people’s rooftops. “I started thinking about the panel’s ability to capture and store the sun’s energy and how this could be translated into movement.” Who knew this idea would evolve into Nucleus, a 25-minute piece that uses geometric patterns, full-body movement, special lighting and projections to illustrate the sun’s energy. “I wanted to use elements like the projector and stage lighting to portray the sun in a way that wasn’t so obvious like putting the dancers in yellow costumes. The piece also doesn’t follow a typical storyline. It’s follows more of a timeframe.”

To bring Nucleus to life Esperanza needed a group of dancers willing to challenge themselves mentally and physically, and who could also think and dance as one. He found what he was looking for with Dark Circles Contemporary Dance USA (DCCD). Artistic Director Joshua L. Peugh and Esperanza had met previously at a dance festival and really hit it off. So, when Peugh was looking for guest choreographers to come in and create pieces for DCCD’s Fall Series at the Sanders Theatre in Fort Worth, Esperanza was at the top of the list. “Like I always say, I am drawn to people who are curious and love to move,” Peugh says.

Along with running BARE Dance Company in New York, Esperanza also has experience in graphic design, and his approach to visual construction has captivated audiences across the county. His work has been commissioned by many university dance programs, including Chapman University, Loyola Marymount University, and UNLV, among others. Esperanza’s choreography has also made numerous appearances in regional and national galas at the American College Dance Festival. In 2005, Esperanza was awarded the Dance: Creation for Performance grant presented by Dance/USA and the Irvine Foundation.

Esperanza recently finished his two-week residency with DCCD and I saw their final rehearsal at Preston Center Dance on a hot Friday afternoon. The atmosphere inside the rehearsal room was professional, yet friendly as Emily Bernet, Salvatore Bonilla, Zac Hammer, Steffani Lopez and Kelsey Rohr stretched and chatted with Esperanza, Peugh and myself. But when it came time to run the piece the dancers quickly shifted into performance mode. Their eyes became focused and breathing steadied as their bodies awaited the first chord in the music.

Photo: Courtesy of DCCD
Photo: Courtesy of DCCD

On DCCD’s Tumblr page Bernet shares her experience working with Esperanza. “He moves quickly, following a constant stream of inspiration. As he creates he keeps us involved, following his every weight shift and direction change. The piece incorporates a range of dynamics, and Mike is helping us discover how to make the energy of the work build and fall like a wave, bringing the images together into one idea.”

She adds, “His residency has provided us with an opportunity to continue our artistic growth, and as always, has been a lot of fun. Mike’s creativity has challenged me to move in new ways and brought us closer as a company.”

Esperanza credits his use of imagery and improvisation in the rehearsal process for helping the dancers connect to his vision. “I asked them to think about the energy they give off when they walk into a room for the first time. This is the energy I want to see while they are moving through the space. The dancers really responded to this visual.” Along with emulating the sun’s energy, the group also plays around with the idea of transferring energy. This is reflected in Esperanza’s exploration of motion using action and reaction and continuous physical connections. For example, in one section of the piece the group runs in a repetitive counter clockwise direction. After the second rotation they add a stomp which picks up intensity as they go. As the circling continues the dancers connect with one another via a hand on the shoulder, hip to hip or, in a surprising shift of energy, reversing their runs only to be captured in the arms of the person behind them. “Staying connected mentally to the others throughout the whole piece has been the biggest challenge,” says DCCD newcomer Zac Hammer. “If one person’s energy is slightly off it affects the whole group.”

On the last day with the group Esperanza says he is pleased with how the piece is looking. “I had a great time working with these dancers. They caught on quickly and were opened to trying new things.” This includes a section where the group executes handstands and B-boy movements against a stage left wall while simultaneously gyrating and lip-syncing. It’s not exactly pretty, but very hypnotic. 

» Nucleus will premiere alongside Peugh’s Beautiful Knuckleheads and Chadi El-Khoury’s Words in Motion at Dark Circles Contemporary’s Fall Series, Sept 4-6, at the Hardy and Betty Sanders Theatre in Fort Worth.

This preview was originally posted on TheaterJones.com.