Sketch 12: showcase of new choreographers

  • by Philip Mayard
  • Tuesday July 5, 2022
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Joshua Peugh (foreground) in rehearsal with Dance Lab New York. photo: Scott Shaw
Joshua Peugh (foreground) in rehearsal with Dance Lab New York. photo: Scott Shaw

With so much turmoil in the world, many of us find ourselves feeling nostalgic and yearning for the not-so-distant past (Does 2015 count as the good old days?). As we search for hope and inspiration by looking back, many of us have turned to the arts for solace and optimism as we face an uncertain future.

It's in this spirit of nostalgia that local choreographic luminary Amy Seiwert brings the twelfth iteration of her annual 'Sketch' collaborative series to Fort Mason's Cowell Theater July 15 and 16. "Sketch 12: Dear Diary" will feature a new work by Seiwert, as well as world premieres by former ODC/Dance company member Natasha Adorlee and New Mexico-based choreographer Joshua L. Peugh, who identifies as gay.

Performers will include dancers from Smuin Ballet, Sacramento Ballet, ODC/Dance, Opera Paralléle, Ballet Hispanico, Ailey II, Company C, and Amy Seiwert's Imagery. Seiwert has challenged the choreographers and dance artists to engage in a highly collaborative process over the course of several weeks, creating new works that respond to the question, "How does looking to the past illuminate our way forward?"

Natasha Adorlee, a first-generation Asian American, was recently chosen to be Amy Seiwert's Imagery's second Artistic Fellow (2022-23). Although Adorlee's choreographic work is grounded in ballet, she's known for her multidisciplinary talents, which experiment with new technology, martial arts, modern, and contemporary techniques.

Joshua L. Peugh, who is currently based in his hometown of Las Cruces, New Mexico, has a unique movement style that he utilizes to share untold stories and to explore his personal experiences as an individual who identifies as gay. He is founder/director of Dark Circles Contemporary Dance (based both in South Korea and Las Cruces), and he has created more than 40 works for festivals in South Korea, Japan, Canada, and the US. He was chosen by Dance Magazine as one of their "25 to Watch" and also served as choreographer for legendary soprano Kathleen Battle's concert "Underground Railroad — A Spiritual Journey."

A self-proclaimed "musical theatre nerd" as a child and teenager, Peugh started dancing at age three, taking classes at the only studio in Las Cruces. After graduating from Southern Methodist University's dance program in Dallas, he was accepted into the company at Universal Ballet, a large, prestigious, but very traditional ballet company based in Seoul, South Korea. He says it was a dream job that most dancers could only hope to achieve.

Choreographer Joshua L. Peugh. photo: Brian Guilliaux  

A Turning Point
However, on his first day with the company, he had the opportunity to work with Ohad Naharin, a contemporary choreographer from the Batsheva Dance Company in Tel Aviv, Israel.

"That was earth-shattering," he said in an interview with the Bay Area Reporter. "It reminded me why I danced in the first place. I love classical ballet, but after working with Ohad, while doing those same traditional ballets over and over with Universal, I knew I wasn't dancing or seeing the work I wanted to dance or see. So I decided to make it myself."

To that end, he recruited a group of dancers in the Seoul region to create a work for an international dance festival, a successful collaboration that lead to the formation of his company, Dark Circles Contemporary Dance.

"We kept getting more festivals and eventually we needed a name," he said. "I looked around and there were all these people who danced full-time for other companies. Then they would work all night with me, then we'd hang out and drink coffee till 4 or 5 a.m."

He added, laughingly, "We all had these terrible dark circles under our eyes because we were so tired! So that's where the name Dark Circles came from."

Isabella Velasquez and Anthony Cannarella in Amy Seiwert's 'By Any Other Name.' photo: David DeSilva  

Gay in the USA
After a few years in Korea, Peugh moved back to Dallas where he started a branch of Dark Circles, while continuing to create works for festivals around the world. In recent years, he's been compelled to explore his identity through his choreographic work more intentionally.

He describes one encounter that impacted his trajectory.

"I was working with a large, well respected ballet company a few years ago, when a company administrator whispered into my ear, 'Can you change that part with the two men partnering?' I was really shocked. I guess some board members had come down on them about male partnering. I just couldn't believe that this was still an issue... for a ballet company! But it made me think more broadly about classical. I mean come on, all of the gay icons in ballet? The art form has been created by queers, but it's mostly still hidden behind this veneer."

Peugh said that after that experience, he decided to push even harder to make same-sex duets. His conviction is palpable.

"I've always loved doing partner work, but I was primarily doing male/female duets, mostly just out of habit from the classical idiom," he said. "Now I'm more intentional of my choices — particularly if there are queer people in the company — to really tell their stories and my own personal story as queer."

Amy Seiwert's Imagery, Sketch 12: Dear Diary, Friday, July 15 and Saturday, July 16, 7:30pm, Cowell Theater, Fort Mason Center, 2 Marina Blvd. (415) 345-7575

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