Tag Archives: AT&T Performing Arts Center’s Elevator Project

Review: Donkey Beach, Danielle Georgiou Dance Group

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.

Donkeybeach
Danielle Georgiou Dance Group in Donkey Beach. Photo: Mark Lowry

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.

Justin Locklear in Donkey Beach. Photo: Mark Lowry

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.

 

 

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Preview: Danielle Georgiou Dance Group’s Donkey Beach

Postcard from Donkey Beach. Photo: Frank Robertson/DGDG

Danielle Georgiou Dance Group returns to its zany storylines and feminist roots in Donkey Beach, part of  AT&T Performing Arts Center’s Elevator Project.

Dallas — Over the last six years Danielle Georgiou has made a name for herself in the Dallas arts community for her unique collaborations with local singers, actors and musicians as well as for putting out work that is real and relevant and always pack a punch. Her use of originxal music, tanztheater (expressionist dance) and dark humor to bring attention to taboo topics such as gender roles, sexual orientation and feminism is both disconcerting and engaging at the same time. You can see all these elements at work in Danielle Georgiou Dance Group’s (DGDG) newest production, Donkey Beach, which premieres June 22-25 at Hamon Hall in the Winspear Opera House as part of AT&T Performing Arts Center’s Elevator Project.

Inspired by the beach party movies of the 1960s featuring Frankie Avalon and Annette Funicello, Georgiou and her team, including Justin Locklear and Ruben Carrazana, have created a similar setting where the sun always shines, the songs are about bikinis and surf boards and the teenagers say things like “gee whiz” and “cowabunga” while busting out classic ’60s dance moves like The Swim and The Mashed Potato. The concept for the show came to Georgiou while watching Disney’s Teen Beach 2 one evening. “I really liked the idea of being transported to a different time and place,” Georgiou says. “I also love the ’60s because it was the first time that women really had a voice in society and were comfortable in their own skin.” Georgiou adds that she’s also a fan of the femme fatale characters in the movies from the ’40s and ’50s.

The structure of the show is a musical with songs and dances woven in between dialogue and modern dance techniques such as weight sharing, concaved body shapes and pedestrian movements. “This is definitely a musical, but it doesn’t have the typical happily ever after at the end. I mean boy meets girl and the two of them kind of fall in love, but then everything starts to fall apart. There is no happy ending in this musical.” Georgiou doesn’t tell me this to spoil the ending of the run through I was about to see of Donkey Beach at Eastfield College in Dallas last Saturday afternoon. Actually, Locklear alludes to this fact multiple times in his opening monologue, which explains how Donkey Beach came into existence.

To sum it up, a seahorse enchantress and an evil gin—“it’s an evil genie,” band member Trey Pendergrass shouts out multiple times throughout the show—had a falling out and in her anger the enchantress turned the genie into a donkey. Heartbroken and looking like a literal ass the donkey creates a magical place where everyone is happy all the time. Locklear and the band then lead us into the opening scene, which depicts a bunch a miserable teenagers at a summer camp where it rains all the time. With Locklear’s urging the lead characters Jimmy (Matt Clark) and Susie (Debbie Crawford) drink from a bottle of donkey water that then opens up the portal to Donkey Beach. You can definitely draw some parallels between this story and that of William Shakespeare’s The Tempest, which also includes magical beings and a remote island.

The music for the show has a Beach Boys vibe with lyrics about bikinis, surf boards and beach parties, which will be performed live by Locklear (vocals and bass guitar), Pendergrass (percussion) and Cory Kosel (vocals and guitar). Like all of Georgiou’s productions, she uses these original tunes as a means to poke fun at specific societal norms and stereotypes with the ultimate goal of opening up the audiences’ eyes to certain issues in a non-threatening and usually ridiculously funny way. An example would be Crawford’s solo with a ukulele, “because of course she can play the ukulele,” Pendergrass states as he brings the instrument over to her. The song starts off light about young love, but then turns heavy when she questions why society makes excuses for men when it comes to domestic abuse and how society typically looks the other way when it happens. The song ends and the performers are quiet for a minute, allowing for the viewers to absorb the message, before Will Acker jumps up and says, “Dude you killed the mood. This is a bonfire!” With that cue the band starts playing and dance madness ensues. You also have to appreciate the irony of Carrazana portraying a woman complete with a grass skirt and coconut bra in a movie genre known for its plastic images.

Later in the show you will notice the performers make vague references about world events such as mass tragedies and natural disasters as well as smaller, more personal tragedies. When asked why she didn’t name specific tragedies like the recent bombing in Manchester, England, Georgiou responded that she didn’t want to limit the show to just the here and now. “I want it to represent all time periods, not just what is happening today. I want the show to mean something in a universal way.”

Georgiou loosely describes the show as having three acts: the first being the gloomy camp scene where we meet the teenage characters; the second on Donkey Beach where the characters are transformed into 1960s talking and dancing beach kids; and the final scene between the enchantress and the donkey, which Georgiou says contains the meat of the show. “This is where the bottom just drops out of the show. Everything before this is just pretense.” I don’t want to give the twist away, but I left the rehearsal pondering to myself if given a choice would I rather live in miserable reality or in a joyful lie.

>This preview was originally posted on TheaterJones.com.