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