Danielle Georgiou Dance Group captures the essence of the 1960s’ beach movies in Donkey Beach, part of AT&T Performing Arts Center’s Elevator Project.
Dallas — As an artist Danielle Georgiou has always been a rule breaker. Looking over her portfolio of work these last few years, which includes Dirty Filthy Diamonds, NICE, and The Show About Men, you will notice that the only time she follows the rules is when she is about to break them. Georgiou is also not shy about addressing social taboo topics such as gender roles, sexual orientation and feminism in her work, but she does it in such a way that you don’t know whether to laugh or cringe. You typically end up doing both at the same time, which is one of the main draws of a Danielle Georgiou Dance Group (DGDG) show. The other being Georgiou’s ability to gather so many gifted local musicians, singers, actors and dancers in one place. This is something no other dance performance company has come close to doing here in Dallas.
Needless to say the expectations were high for DGDG’s newest production Donkey Beach, which premiered this weekend at Hamon Hall in the Winspear Opera House as part of AT&T Performing Arts Center’s Elevator Project. A well-suited collaborative effort among Georgiou, Justin Locklear (music and lyrics) and Ruben Carrazana (script), Donkey Beach is a parody of the 1960s beach party movie genre, which includes films like Gidget (1959), Beach Party (1963), Pajama Party (1964) and Beach Blanket Bingo (1965). Like the movies that inspired it, Donkey Beach seamlessly blends live surf rock played by Locklear, Trey Pendergrass and Cory Kosel (also known as the Beach Bums); popular dance moves at the time such as The Twist, The Shimmy and The Mashed Potato; and meticulously timed dialogue that includes a copious amount of ’60s slang like “can you dig it” and “hang ten” to create one totally awesome beach bash.
The insanely happy beach vibe is carried throughout the entire production, including the moving sets featuring fabric on wheels which unveil multiple life-size 3D ocean waves, a camp cabin that becomes a lifeguard stand and a small stage in an upstage left corner where the band is situated. Locklear keeps the surfer theme going with the costumes, which feature bold-patterned swim trucks for the men and brightly colored cover-ups for the women. And Lori Honeycutt does a dynamic job with the lighting which transitions from muted purples and flashes of white light in the camp scene to warm yellows and oranges during the beach party.
Known for its borderless performances, DGDG had to get creative when it came to the rectangular-sized space of Hamon Hall as well as the fact the audience would not be on a rake when viewing the show. DGDG solves the first problem right away by having some of the members enter from the back of the room in a militant-styled dance sequence, which welcomed us to Camp Walla Bang-Bang. The 14-member cast wears army green t-shirts over black biking shorts with plastic head pieces that resemble raincoats.
Georgiou uses simple movements such as heavy walking, pivot steps and repetitive arm gestures to represent the campers’ dull and monotonous state of being. As the campers are directed to state their name, bunk number and favorite color, viewers notice that some voices are clear as a bell (Hannah Brake, William Acker, Curtis Green and Carrazana) while others, including De’Ja Farr, Omar Padilla and Colby Calhoun, are harder to hear due to the speed at which they speak—they all adjust this by the next scene.
The second problem of the people in the back not being able to see some of the action up front is addressed by Locklear, who describes the action the same way a sports caster would—so not to exclude anyone from the fun.
Locklear and the band are the glue that holds the show together. Locklear sets the mood in his opening monologue, which is a combination of Dick Clark, Humphrey Bogart and Vincent Price rolled into one as he tells audiences how Donkey Beach came into existence. It started with an enchantress and evil gin (or genie), Locklear says with a wicked smile and a wink. To sum it up the two creatures get together and then break up, and in his heartbroken state the genie banishes the enchantress to the sea, but not before she turns him into a donkey. In order to cope with his new image, the donkey creates a place at the end of the world where the sun is always shining and the party never stops. Locklear’s delivery is kind of creepy yet inviting, with a hypnotic cadence that the audience can’t help but follow.
Georgiou’s modern dance background and tanztheater influences are scattered throughout the show, including the fluid body shapes and springy footwork of Gabe King, Green and Calhoun in one of their trios and Debbie Crawford and Matthew Clark’s jerky body isolations after drinking out of a bottle containing rain water. She even makes dancing bushes appear musical and exciting. Georgiou has a knack for tackling issues like such gender roles in non-confrontational ways with the aid of irony and humor. An example would be when Carrazana rubs up on the lifeguard (Brian Witkowicz) dressed in grass skirt, coconut bra and blonde wig as Witkowicz sings about young, soft bodies in bikinis.
Spoiler Alert: Near the end it is revealed that Witkowicz is the donkey and he must be punished for tricking the teenagers into drinking his magic water and basically brainwashing them to be happy all the time. Becki McDonald’s hauntingly beautiful solo (she’s wearing a seahorse mask; both it and the donkey mask, designed by Locklear, are fantastic) is a sweet note in the show as the performers manipulate strips of blue fabric stretched across the stage while she sings about coming out of the water. The dialogue between McDonald and Witkowicz hits home when he mentions the terrors and tragedies happening across the world as well as more personal tragedies such as heartbreak and rejection. And this is where Georgiou’s twist happens—but you’ll have to see it to find out what happens.
You can still see Donkey Beach today at 2 or 8 p.m. at Hamon Hall in the Winspear Opera House at the AT&T Performing Arts Center.
<<This review was originally posted on TheaterJones.com.