Chadi El-Khoury is a relative newcomer to the world of dance, but his company is starting to move
MARK LOWRY | Special Contributor
Chadi El-Khoury’s trajectory as a choreographer is not far removed from his, and his family’s, immigrant story. His parents moved from their native Beirut in the late 1990s, when he was in middle school, following the lead of other family members who left Lebanon during the country’s civil war in the early 1980s. As the earlier immigrants settled in Mesquite, Texas, so did his parents and his two brothers more than a decade later.
“I have been academically successful, I got a great job — all the stuff you want for your immigrant children in America,” he says, referring to his job as a software development business consultant. He made his parents proud.
But even he wouldn’t have predicted how proud they’ve been as he has found relatively quick success in pursuing is greatest passion, dance — especially for a family that had little relationship to the arts. He didn’t start dancing until age 21, and now, at age 28, he has a fledgling dance company called Chado Danse (Chado, pronounced “shod-oh,” was his childhood nickname) and has been accepted to the first two dance festivals to which he has applied: San Francisco’s PushFest in September; but first the Dallas DanceFest, which comes to City Performance Hall in the Dallas Arts District Aug. 29-31. (See sidebar, Page 37.)
The Dallas acceptance came as he was planning a move back to North Texas, having been in Kansas City for five years, where he had studied at the Conservatory of
Dance and Music at the University of Missouri-Kansas City before working with other companies and starting his own. Besides being closer to his family, he had another reason to move here: his growing romantic relationship with Joshua Peugh, the founder of Dark Circles Contemporary Dance, which is also performing at the Dallas
Chado Danse will present El-Khoury’s duet Knead Me Whole at DanceFest; and he’s a featured choreographer at DCCD’s fall program at the Fort Worth Community Arts Center the following weekend, Sept. 4-6, where his six-dancer work Words in Motion will be presented.
“Chadi and I met nine years ago, before he began his dance training,” says Peugh of his partner and now artistic collaborator. “I have watched his dance career unfold and very exited to introduce North Texas audiences to his soothing and absorbing work. He has a very kind and generous heart and is always pushing his own boundaries.”
“I decided to move back and pursue dance and the scene here,” El-Khoury says. “Part of what Dallas has to offer is very appealing. The risk, I think, will be rewarding.
The DanceFest acceptance, that was a great affirmation that the decision I made was the right one.”
Growing up in Lebanon in a Marianist Catholic family, El-Khoury knew he wanted to be a dancer despite not being exposed to it, either live or on TV. While working on his college degree, in his early 20s, he started dancing without having had any formal training. He met Peugh in the mid-2000s when Peugh was studying dance at SMU.
When Peugh went to South Korea, where he stayed for six years and co-founded Dark Circles, El-Khoury El-Khoury decided the time was right for him to pursue dance, too.
Movement came naturally, and he was accepted to the Kansas City program right away. There were setbacks. He injured his back in an incident during a lift in a performance while working with Kansas City’s Charlotte Street Foundation, where he was selected for a yearlong residency in the Urban Culture Project. After healing, he was accepted to train at the American Dance Festival in Raleigh-Durham, N.C., and sustained another injury. Two shoulder surgeries later and he was back in the game.
“To be honest, there has been a lot of insecurity. I started dancing at 21 and 22, so I was much older than most dancers, who had more experience at that age,” he says.
“But I have something to offer that’s unique. When people see my movement style they don’t realize that I am new to it.”
El-Khoury describes that style as contemporary ballet, with elongated arms and twisty body positions. He says there are no influences from Lebanese culture, but there’s something sensual about his style that is reminiscent of the sensual arm movements in certain types of Middle Eastern dance.
“For me it’s about trying to be as honest and sincere as possible, and using my whole body, either it’s the tips of my fingers or anything,” he says. “My movement is through breathing; it’s being visceral and expressive, but not being literal in the expression in your face.
“It comes from wanting to dance for a very long time and having these ideas but not being able to pursue it because I was in a place where it wasn’t possible,” he adds. “I would imagine how I would move. My movement for me is emotion coming to life; it’s like when you’re in a relationship and there’s a spark between the two of you, but you don’t know how to explain it, it just happens. Dance is like that for me.”
Coming out to his traditional Lebanese family wasn’t easy for him to do, either, but like his immersion into dance, they have evolved from being accepting to being outright proud of his accomplishments and devotion to his dream.
“My motto is to be unafraid,” he says. “[My family] signed up to love me and that’s not going to change.”
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition August 15, 2014.