Nicholas Heffelfinger Reflects on Creating BIG BAD WOLF

Nicholas Heffelfinger in Joshua L. Peugh's  Big Bad Wolf.  Photo by Sharen Bradford

Nicholas Heffelfinger in Joshua L. Peugh's Big Bad Wolf. Photo by Sharen Bradford

As a dancer growing up at a Performing Arts High School and then attending the Boston Conservatory at Berklee, one of my biggest fears was never landing a dance job post-graduation. You hear “horror” stories of dancers trying to make it after graduating only to give up dance fully after one, two, five, or ten years of trying. Thus, I feel extremely lucky to be where I am today as a company member of Dark Circles Contemporary Dance. It all seems like a blur—I attended the Dark Circles audition back in March, was offered a contract, decided to sign the contract, and moved all the way from Pennsylvania to Dallas this past summer. But even after landing my first professional dance job, my feelings of fear did not seem to go away. All of a sudden, I was in a new city, in a room full of dancers I did not know, and working with a professional dance company for the first time in my life. Fear continued to creep up on me even in small unnoticeable ways. My fear along with the fearful future of our country and planet, lent itself perfectly to the creation of Josh’s Big Bad Wolf. Through the process of creation and discussion of the role that fear and “bad guys” play in children’s stories, I began to truly grasp this concept of fear and learn to deal with it in my own small ways.

Nick & Lena Oren rehearse  Big Bad Wolf

Nick & Lena Oren rehearse Big Bad Wolf

After joining Dark Circles, I realized that the company operates in a unique way. Josh’s creation process allows us dancers to act as creative influences on the movement and structure of the piece. This was very evident right off the bat, as we began creating phrase work for Big Bad Wolf. The movement for Josh’s work comes out of inspirations from daily life and occurrences within rehearsal. I believe this process allows the movement to remain alive in our bodies and modalities. It is as if the movement phrases Josh forms create a skeleton for the work. Then we dancers, as individuals, are given the freedom to insert the organs, nerves, muscles, and fluids to our liking in order to give life to the piece.

Joshua L. Peugh rehearsing the company in  Big Bad Wolf

Joshua L. Peugh rehearsing the company in Big Bad Wolf

The first few weeks of creation were extremely exciting and exhausting. Josh has a very specific and unique movement vocabulary that changes and adapts to whoever he has in the room and whatever piece he is working on. At first, finding one’s own groove within this specific aesthetic can be quite difficult, but over time one’s body finds its home within the “Peughtiful” technique. The specificity of movement vocabulary is a result of Josh translating various tasks into movement. These tasks can be as simple as tracing the lettering on someone's t-shirt with different body parts in space. Josh’s elemental, pedestrian, and playful inspirations for movement enable us to bring ourselves and our personalities into the work. For Big Bad Wolf, the specificity in style and movement quickly sorted the cast into characters. Each character became essential to the overall theme of analyzing the installment of fear in children through cautionary tales. 

Composer Brandon Carson recording the score for  Big Bad Wolf

Composer Brandon Carson recording the score for Big Bad Wolf

The unique musical score for Big Bad Wolf is unlike anything I’ve ever heard. Brandon Carson, a recent graduate from SMU, composed such wonderful tunes that make the eerie stories within the piece come to life. Using influences such as carny music from the 1800’s as well as spooky musical tones that sound like they belong with campfire tales, Carson perfectly matched the mood and atmosphere the work provokes. The music connects in a wonderful way to our movement, bringing out and deepening our various characters and the stories we tell with our bodies. 

Nicholas & Lena in Big Bad Wolf. Photo by Sharen Bradford

Nicholas & Lena in Big Bad Wolf. Photo by Sharen Bradford

Big Bad Wolf, is a true theatrical experience produced through beautiful collaborations. The piece comes together when our movement is paired with the incredible music by Brandon, the lovely costumes by Susan Austin, and the intriguing lighting design by Roma Flowers.  As a dancer new to Dallas, its art scene, and Dark Circles, the creation of Big Bad Wolf has been inspiring and fulfilling. Through all of the creativity and collaboration, I have begun to discover my place within the work, the company, and this city.  Although fear continues to creep into my thoughts every once in a while, our research through movement on fear and storytelling has helped me overcome small struggles with fear. And even though this piece focuses on children’s stories, there is truth and depth within it that relates to people of all ages. We all fear something and yet we also use fear as a tool to manipulate others. So, tell me this, are we all the Big Bad Wolf?

Reserve your seats for the U.S. premiere of Joshua L. Peugh's Big Bad Wolf as well as for the world premiere of Peugh's Les Fairies. Performances will take place October 19 through 21 at Dee and Charles Wyly Theatre, 6th Floor Studio Theatre, Thursday at 7:30 p.m., Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m. Tickets are $25. Tickets can be purchased online at

Our women reflect on their time at Girls Inc.

Joshua L. Peugh and the dancers of Dark Circles Contemporary Dance have spent the last three weeks working on a very special project. They have collaborated with the young women of Girls, Inc. to create a new choreographic work. The project will culminate in a public performance of a brand new choreographic work titled Gal Friday at NorthPark Center's NorthCourt this Saturday, August 6 at 3 PM. The event is FREE and open to the public. The project has inspired new art by Peugh and nurtures creativity and passion for the arts in the young women of Girls, Inc. by affording them direct involvement with the creative process and access to professional artists.

Here, our dancers have taken a few minutes to reflect on their experience with the strong, smart, and bold young women of Girls Inc. 


Dancing with the girls at Girls Inc. was a blast. The girls are so creative and full of energy; each unafraid to let their unique personality shine. Beyond the fun dance moves we shared, these girls inspired me with wisdom and confidence beyond their age. Many of them shared that one of their favorite things about being a girl is the opportunity to prove that girls can do anything. It is easy to see gender inequality as a negative part of being a woman, but they see it as an exciting challenge.

We played a lot of movement generation games with the girls to not only share with them our love of dance, but bring them into the creative process we use in DCCD rehearsals, and in our last class with the girls, we showed them rehearsal videos of our progress on Gal Friday. Watching the girls watch Gal Friday was so much fun. They were so excited to see some of the steps they had created in the piece. Many unique voices have contributed to the creation of Gal Friday, and I think that makes it an incredibly special piece. I am very excited to share it!


This creation process has been a unique and especially exciting one because of our opportunity to work with the vibrant young girls of Girls, Inc. We knew very little of what to expect on the first day; would the girls be receptive and curious, or would we need to push very hard for that cooperation and openness? As the two hours of dancing passed, the girls grew comfortable with us, and we began to see lights of creativity shine through. During our two hours together, I saw each and every one of them (a few with a bit more coercion than others) burst with self confidence. I was reminded that dance can do so much more for young girls than just keep them busy or start a career. Dancing fills youth with joy and a positive sense of self. I realize now that there's nothing better I could have done growing up, and sharing the gift of dance with girls who otherwise wouldn't have had the opportunity is beautiful beyond measure.


The experience at Girls Inc. was fulfilling and gratifying. It reaffirmed my belief that dance is an extraordinary medium which connects, inspires, and transforms people of all ages. In the short two-hour visits that we had with the girls, I witnessed the power that movement had in bringing individual personalities and creative voices forward. You cannot hide when you move your body; you’re exposed and vulnerable to judgment and criticism. What was so rewarding about the time with the girls was watching each young artist’s confidence and support for one another grow as we moved together. They were encouraged to contribute individually to the whole, and as a result, felt important and valued—especially when they could reflect on the process and their contributions that made it possible to choreograph a short dance phrase. Thanks to the creative, collaborative effort of the girls, DCCD built multiple phrases and worked them into the company rehearsals of Gal Friday.

The most moving moment for me was the last day at Girls Inc. when we showed them footage of the company rehearsals and their faces lit up—eyes widened—jaws dropped—when they recognized “their move” a company dancer performed. Girls Inc.’s ultimate goal is “to empower girls to become strong, smart and bold women who positively contribute to our communities and who understand, value and assert their rights.” Our time with the girls did just that, and through dance—through moving and sharing our unique characters in a supportive, positive environment—I am hopeful that these girls will carry forward a newfound creative conviction that will embolden them to discover new potentials as young women.

Queen Girls?

Dancer Kelsey Rohr reflects on Joshua L. Peugh’s new The Rite of Spring premiering this Friday in Dallas.

So, I just cut my hair. Short. Like really short. As in I-feel-like-I-need-to-wear-pink-because-I-look-like-a-boy short. And, honestly, I really love the concept of it: low maintenance, quick drying, inexpensive. But, in reality, I’m still getting used to it. It took a great leap of feminine faith for me to chop it off and only twenty three years of existence to feel comfortable enough to go through with it. Any sooner and my high school years would have been spent a little differently. After all, this tomboy trim would have been what Regina George could compare to joining the “Mathletes” in high school—“social suicide.”

Lately, we’ve been quoting Mean Girls a little too much in rehearsal. I think being asked to channel our inner high schooler in Joshua L. Peugh’s new The Rite of Spring brings out the “She doesn’t even go here!” references in all of us. With the iconic (and overwhelmingly complex) Stravinsky score, The Rite of Spring celebrates a rebirth of seasons. The narrative features one “Chosen One” who is plucked from the group as a sacrifice to the gods of spring. Characteristically blooming with the ideas of virginity and lust, the piece has multiple versions made by many different choreographers. For the March 4th Dallas premiere and the April 29-May 1st Fort Worth runs, Josh chose to tackle a new version of The Rite of Spring, selecting a setting that definitely suits the birds and the bees of springtime. It is one where you can hear the hormones buzzing from a football field away: a 1950’s prom night.

As I dancer, I am asked to recollect my teenage years. I remember sharing code names for crushes with my best friends, sitting in segregated social circles that presented themselves in the cafeteria lunch tables, and feeling way too desperate as I waited for anyone with male parts to ask me to prom. Josh has a unique way of physicalizing all these memories. Within the first chords of the music, we separate into cliques. Boys versus Girls. “You can’t sit with us!” Instantly, I am back in high school searching for a date. As we pair up, I am pulled, whipped, and slung across the room. The men’s manipulation over the women is apparent yet there is still an angsty, sexual energy that causes the women to run back and attach themselves to their date once again.

Even with all of this, the real question driving the dance is: “Who will be prom queen?” Here, this 1950’s version has a modern twist. With one woman dressed as a man and one man dressed as a woman, Josh dances with society’s current fascination with drag and the transgender movement. The connection is subtle at first but a gradual shift in partnering and gender pairing creates tension that leads to a solo and eventually a “social suicide.” A combustion of dance and sounds closes the ballet, crowning the title of “prom queen” with a completely new meaning.

With the premiere less than a week away, I am still learning and understanding what this new meaning entails and how it relates to my character in the work. But, suddenly, I am finding that my new hairdo feels a lot more relevant. To me, it has become a small-scale test of my own gender identity that has allowed me to reconnect with all my petty high school insecurities. Suddenly, I am the new girl, Cady, from Mean Girls: trying to fit in with a clique, only wearing pink on Wednesdays, and secretly hoping to be crowned high school prom queen.


Meet Sarah Elizabeth Stockman


1.   How long have you been dancing?   22 years.

2.   Why did you start dancing?   I was three and do not remember why; probably the same reason so many other little girls want to dance.

3.   Who or what is your biggest inspiration?   Music and people; both are limitless in numbers and qualities. In music, I can discover and appreciate the different layers of instruments and rhythms, and in people, the complex layers built from each person’s unique history.

4.   What is your proudest achievement so far?   Being able to survive and thrive through my three winters in Chicago! (It really is cold)

5.   Tell us about your hobbies.   I love: being in nature, hiking, and backpacking; reading, currently on Reclaiming Conversation by sociologist Sherry Turkle, which discusses the effects of electronic communication on conversation; movies, new and old but never horror; trying to keep my plants alive, although barely surviving my black thumb; cooking, finding a recipe and completely changing it.

6.   Choose one word to describe you.   Curious.

7.   What is your favorite quote?

“Every atom you possess has almost certainly passed through several stars and been part of millions of organisms on its way to becoming you.”
From Bill Bryson’s A Short History of Nearly Everything

Photo by Brian Guilliaux