Thursday, August 15, 2013
South Korean transplant expands “Seoul-searching” dance group to Dallas
SMU grad Joshua Peugh founded Dark Circles Contemporary Dance company, which will make its stateside debut in September.
FORT WORTH Dance can be both an objective and subjective art form. Depending on the style and execution, some productions allow being taken at face value. Others are meant to address deep, and often times uncomfortable, societal issues.
Ask lifelong dancer and choreographer Joshua Peugh. As co-founder and artistic director of Dark Circles Contemporary Dance Company, Peugh has made a career out of defining the difference between entertainment and art. This new to North Texas troupe, a secondary branch of the company that Peugh established in Seoul, South Korea, will be making its stateside debut at Hardy and Betty Sanders Theatre in September.
“When I’m working on my own stuff, I am mostly working through problems that I have or questions I have about humanity and how we live,” Peugh said in a recent interview. “I think all good art does that.”
A native of Las Cruces, New Mexico, Peugh, 29, began taking tap and ballet classes at age three. He continued his classical training through high school and, upon graduating, pursued degrees in both dance and English at Southern Methodist University in Dallas.
College was Peugh’s first experience in the world of modern dance. He was required to take up to three classes every week to satisfy his curriculum. All the while, Peugh said he maintained his status as a classical ballet dancer, though the contemporary style continually grew on him.
After graduating from SMU in 2006, Peugh made the natural, if seemingly arbitrary, transition to professional dancer with the Universal Ballet Company in Seoul, where he was one of just two Americans in the company. Peugh, who only planned to stay in South Korea for six months, learned the native Korean language along his artistic journey, first picking up directions and commands during practice.
“It’s a beautiful place, beautiful people, and their values are really interesting to me,” he said. “I tried not to speak English so I could really invest in the culture.”
Peugh ended up living in South Korea for six years. During his third with Universal Ballet Company, however, Peugh began itching for something “more intimate” and “less theatrical” than ballet. The genre in this particular culture lacked a deeper meaning and emotional invocation, he said.
“The technical part of dance is really important to [Koreans], especially for guys,” he said. Korean men are required to serve at least two years in the national military, Peugh explained. They can be exempt from their tenure, though, if they earn a gold medal at an international ballet or dance competition.
Peugh left the ballet company to teach English and, in 2010, founded Dark Circles Contemporary Dance with best friend Cho Hyun Sang.
The company, named for the late nights Peugh and Sang spent drinking coffee and discussing dance, was unique because it worked outside the traditional Korean standard. Professors almost exclusively govern the dance industry there, Peugh said, making it difficult for new artists to gain traction in the scene. Nonetheless, Dark Circles Contemporary produced 17 award-winning works and performed in five different countries in its first three-and-a-half years.
“It was an anomaly,” Peugh laughed.
Peugh returned to the states in January 2012 to grow the Dark Circles brand. He hand-selected seven dancers ranging from 16 to 40 years old for the Dallas-based branch. September 26 will mark the company’s first full evening debut featuring three original works — two choreographed by Peugh ("Cosmis Sword" and "Jjigae") and one created by Seoul native Kim Dong Hyoung ("Fighting Game").
Perhaps most defining of this journey is Peugh’s newest piece entitled “Jjigae.” The choreographer described the 25-minute production as paradox between his lives here and abroad. In the piece, Peugh wrestles with a tension between the two countries, namely the American media's portrayal of Korean nations compared to his experiences there. He tries to wordlessly explain how the Eastern and Western cultures mix, and reacclimate to the United States within his Korean identity.
“I’m not sure what I’ve created,” Peugh said. “But I hope to create an instinctual connection with my audience through movement.”
Dark Circles Contemporary Dance makes its debut September 26-28 at the Hardy and Betty Sanders Theatre in Fort Worth. The production shows at 8 p.m. each evening and runs about one hour. Tickets go on sale the week of August 19 and cost $20 for adults and $12 for students. For more information, visit darkcirclescontemporarydance.com.
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