By Elva K. Österreich
Dance has become esoteric, Joshua Peugh said. People think it’s not interesting and they can’t get a lot out of it.
“But the thing about dance is it’s innately a human ritual – it’s a human thing that we all carry,” he said. “If a good beat comes on the radio, people aren’t going to be able to sit still, it doesn’t matter who you are.”
So, Peugh, professional dancer and choreographer, has brought his dance company, Dark Circles Contemporary Dance Company, home to Las Cruces. He and his Dark Circles partner, Chadi El-Khoury, have chosen Las Cruces as their dance company home. Peugh is the founder and artistic director while El-Khoury is executive director.
Peugh was born and raised in Las Cruces; his family has always been here. When he chose dance as his passion, he ended up in school in Dallas and then went to South Korea to work with a big ballet company. After six years, he grew tired of dancing the same old traditional ballets, like “Giselle” and “Swan Lake,” and got a job teaching kindergarten there. That’s when he and some friends decided to create their own company, Dark Circles.
Peugh spent his time teaching, rehearsing and planning, making for a very long day.
“It would be like 4 in the morning before getting home to bed, so we had like literal dark circles around our eyes,” he said. “When we started the company, our original logo was a coffee stain because we would be at the coffee shop just talking.”
Returning to work in Dallas again, they brought Dark Circles home to the United States. Now, it is based in Las Cruces and will celebrate its 10th year in 2023.
Because New Mexico lacked a professional dance company and opportunities for people to experience dance at a professional level here, Dark Circles contributes an important and inspirational role in the world of southern New Mexico, Peugh said.
“The plan is to attract people here because this is a perfect destination for artists,” Peugh said. “We have a cheap cost of living and beautiful weather. You can hike every day. This is why we ended up back here. Honestly, I would love for the company to start having regular performances here. I think this a perfect place to at some point build an international dance festival where people come and hang out.”
Dark Circles offers free community master classes once a month for the community.
“We get all kinds of people, it’s fun celebration of movement,” he said. “No matter what age you are dance is accessible. So, don’t look at it as something not for you, dance is not inside your brain and hung somewhere that it doesn’t belong to you, it belongs to everybody.”
The current goal of Dark Circles in Las Cruces is to connect to the community, to get dance in front people as often as possible and in spaces where it feels not threatening, Peugh said. Part of that includes bringing dancers in from across the country to participate in a two-week workshop that started this week. The workshop culminates in two performances on stage during the Las Cruces Farmers and Crafts Market Downtown Saturday, Aug. 20. Performances will be at 9 a.m. and at 10 a.m.
“Last summer we brought in 14 artists and created two ballets,” he said. “We had an amazing turnout. Local dancers, including the young ones got to see some professional artists. We are excited about this community. I think there are endless possibilities for cool things to happen here.”
The company not only performs ballet, but of collage of types. There is a little ballet, a little modern dance, breakdancing and whatever else the artists bring with them.
“It’s more interesting to me that way,” he said. “It belongs to everyone in the audience and it’s easier for the audience to connect to what they are seeing. Dance has to come across the proscenium line.”
The company is focused on making a space for adults to train if they want to.
“I’m hoping the classes we provide can connect the community and give adults space to practice,” Peugh said. “I think that’s a reason people walk away (from dancing). A lot of dance space are spaces of trauma, but now things are changing a bit. We are reimagining the system of ballet and the treatment of people in those spaces.”
The hope at Dark Circles is to create a safe place where people can go and connect with movement and dance.
“It’s all about the pleasure of moving really,” he said. “Eventually we will start producing a professional level of dance in this town. It’s important to me because I grew up here. I don’t see any reason this can’t be a place where people land.”
More information can be found at darkcirclescontemporarydance.com.