Tag Archives: Dallas Arts

Q&A: Daniel Ezralow

The world-renowned choreographer on breaking dance traditions using movement and visual arts and his company’s Dallas debut on the TITAS Presents series.

Daniel Ezralow’s Open. Photo: Angelo Redaelli/Ezralow Dance

Dallas — Since its inception in 2014, Ezralow Dance has garnered a reputation both in the U.S. and abroad for its explosive physicality, original thought and playful humor, which all stem from the mind of artistic director and choreographer, Daniel Ezralow. The Los Angeles-based company is comprised of nine dancers performing works that mingle contemporary dance with humor, provocative ideas and impressive video projections. The company also aims to collaborate with performers, composers, visual artists and filmmakers to transport audiences to new dimensions, exploring and questioning the ideas of dance and humanity, according the Company’s website.

Ezralow’s performance résumé reads like a who’s who of contemporary dance. He has danced with 5×2 Plus, MOMIX, the Lar Lubovitch Dance Company and Paul Taylor Dance Company. Throughout his career Ezralow has created 15 original dance theatre plays, including PearlFlying Bodies, Soaring Souls and a reinterpretation of Igor Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring.

His work has also been seen in Julie Taymor’s film Across the Universe, Cirque du Soleil’s Love and in the opening ceremony of the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi.

His most recent show Open, had its U.S. premiere at the Wallis Annenberg Center in Los Angeles in 2016 and is also the program the Company will be presenting in Dallas, March 29-30, at the Moody Performance Hall. Described as surprising, comical and fun, Open is a series of dynamic vignettes that are woven together using classical music, inventive concepts, playful movement and striking visuals

TheaterJones asks Ezralow about creating movement for film and theater, collaborating with his dancers and what audiences can expect to see this weekend.

 

TheaterJones: How would you describe Open, the work you will be presenting in Dallas this weekend?

Photo: MSA
Daniel Ezralow

Daniel Ezralow: You’re obviously going to see movement. You’re going to see fun concepts paired with classical music. And you’re going to see a fun show that is available to everybody. So I try to in a sense demystify the work and not put it up on a pedestal. I think it has to really play for everyone. Those who love dance and those who have never seen dance before as well.

 

So many contemporary choreographers today choose to go deep and heavy with their work. What made you want to create something light and humorous?

Generally speaking, choreographers today take themselves too seriously. Everyone is important in this world, including the janitor, the trash collector and the street sweeper. Everyone is important and they’re as important to appreciate your work as a well-developed artist who has been around the world or someone whose graduate summa cum laude from a university. I think it’s really important that we pay attention to everybody because as artists our responsible is to somehow have a positive effect on the world.

So, sometimes I get a little fed up, as you do, with the doom and gloom and the seriousness and the politicization of contemporary work. And I say you know what? I would just like everyone to really get their money’s worth. In other words, they have to come to the show and reach into their pocket to buy a ticket and spend 75 minutes of their life watching what I do on stage. I would like them to walk out feeling inspired. Feeling happy. Feeling a sense of joy. And I say this a lot and it’s a silly thing, but just that they want to live another day of their life because what’s important is that we inspire. And this work was very much meant to be that. I was meant to be accessible and that pretty much anybody could come a watch it and they wouldn’t have to say ‘oh, what does that mean?’ I just want them to accept it and get it.

 

There’s a fine line between comical and cheesy. In Open how did you keep from going over the top with the humor?

I think of it as more ironic than anything else. In my life I feel like I am very respectful of everybody, but I am respectful in a way to the rules in order to break them. So there is a big part of me that wants to look at something and if the rules are not working then I want to show people that it can be broken. I want to show that there is irony behind the rule. So a lot of the humor that I play with it really comes from my childhood. In my childhood I felt capable of joking around. There’s times that I do see my work and I think ‘Oh my God’ that’s just too silly. And then other times I see the dancers uplift the choreography to the point where I say “Wow they pulled it off!”

You see, I get overjoyed when I see someone walking down the street and they start jumping up and down on the sidewalk. Usually children and puppies do that, but adults never do that. So to see someone so overjoyed that they jump up and down is a very unique ironic break our society. And I think that is an important thing to see all the time. In a way I am very serious with the humor I use. But I believe also there is a very powerful thing that you can say once you make someone laugh.

 

Do you typically collaborate with the dancers during the creative process?

I am always collaborative. I come in with a strong idea, but I don’t actually believe that I can make anyone believe anything or do anything. So, both with the dancers and the audience I let the audience have the final word. I don’t want to tell them they’re supposed to believe what I am saying. If they believe it I am really happy and if they don’t then I need to work on my work.

It’s the same with my dancers. You see, I never believed that the dancer was just a color that the artist paints with. I think the color has an energy to it. I think dancers have their own unique energy. Ultimately, I think from a long time ago when I founded MOMIX with Moses Pendleton the whole belief system was that the dance is greater than the dancer and the dancer is greater than the choreography. Meaning to say that inside of our bodies we have dance. We are born with it. We keep moving our bodies because moving your body is what keeps you young and what keeps the flow of life going through you.

So, I believe that the dance is inside of you. The choreography is designed for which to hold the dancer or which to hold the dance. The dance is like a Greek spirit. It’s beyond all of us. And then the dancer takes that energy into their body and then the choreographer takes the energy of the body of the dancer and decides to organize it in a certain way.

So, I don’t really feel that at any point choreography should be stronger than the person performing it. In that sense I try to involve the dancers from a very early stage.

 

What type of dancers do you like to work with?

For a long time when I did commissions on companies and I tended to gravitate toward the black sheep. I wanted the dancer that the director told me was trouble and to not work with them, but that was the person I wanted to work with. Because they always had some unique issues right under the surface and that gave me fantastic material to work with.

And with my own company there is a lot of turnover, but only because my company is a project-based company. So, when we have a show we get together, but they all work commercially as well. I tend to like dancers who can do a music video or T.V. show and then they come and do concert work. I feel those dancers are very well-rounded. But the dancers I am working with, I call them all the time and some of them have been working with me for more than 10 years.

 

How hard is it for you to switch gears from concert work to commercial work?

Even when we were doing MOMIX, David Bowie would call or U2 would call us because they liked the work we were doing. So I wouldn’t call it commercial. You could come at that work from a commercial point of view or you could come at it from an artistic point of view. And I always come at it from artistic even when I did films like The Grinch with Ron Howard. That still is an artistic project for me. All the commercial things I do like Television even in Italy. Though seemingly it looks like just a TV show, I always try to change the dynamic and change the parameter to feel more artistic and that’s what I love about it.

So I kind of hop skip and jump between film, TV, Broadway, commercial work and artistic work, and because I am flexible in my mind I don’t see that it’s a problem. I’m sure for some people it would be a big problem. But my mind is flexible and these are very different worlds. The timing on an artistic project is not at all the timing on a Television project. In Television you have to move fast. You have to change fast. And you have to be willing to give up your idea and compromise all the time. Whereas with an artistic project you’re really backing your idea. So, I just shift with the projects and I don’t see that it’s difficult.

This Q&A was posted on TheaterJones.com.

 

Advertisements

Preview: Dark Circles Contemporary Dance’s Aladdin, Habibi

MAGIC MOVES

Dark Circles Contemporary Dance takes us to a whole new world in Joshua L. Peugh’s Aladdin, Habibi, part of AT&T Performing Arts Center’s Elevator Project.

DCCD Company Member Chadi El-Khoury. Photo: Brian Guilliaux

Dallas — Over the last seven years Dark Circles Contemporary Dance’s Artistic Director Joshua L. Peugh has wowed us again and again with his insightful and unique perspective on the human condition as well as today’s social norms. He transfers this information to his dancers using a combo of classical and modern movements infused with his own special blend of grounded footwork, knee-bruising floor work and happenstance partnering. His aesthetic demands that the dancers be comfortable in their own skin, yet open and vulnerable on stage.

Peugh is asking this and much more from the company in his first evening-length creation, Aladdin, حبيبي, part of the AT&T Performing Arts Center’s Elevator Project, Oct. 11-14, at the Wyly Theatre. The immersive 75-minute production focuses on American rhetoric regarding the Middle East and the stereotypes associated with Middle Eastern races and cultures. The work is based on the folk tale of “The Story of Aladdin” or “The Wonderful Lamp,” first written in The Book of One Thousand and One Nights (or The Arabian Nights).

Peugh says this process all began while browsing through a book store one Sunday morning. “I found a copy of Arabian Nights and the first line in the book is once upon a time in China. See when most people think of Aladdin they think of the 1992 Disney movie, but Aladdin was actually Chinese and the story was added later on by Frenchman Antoine Galland.”

He continues, “This was one aspect of the work. The other being company member Chadi El-khoury’s personal story, which includes his mom bringing him and his brother to America when he was 11 years old. We go to his Mom’s house every Sunday and she always calls her children Habibi, an Arabic endearment like ‘sweetheart,’ and it’s why the title of the work is called Aladdin, Habibi. We put the term in Arabic to signal to these people that their voice is being represented here.”

Peugh also points out that the work will feature a new score from Southern Methodist University’s Meadows School of the Arts alumnus Brandon Carson and will be performed live by a six-piece band. The production also includes costumes designed by Susan Austin and lighting by Bart McGeehon.

“I honestly didn’t know what the music was going to look like until I got started with the dancers, but we needed music before rehearsals began and so I ended up sending Brandon a list of plot points and asked him to make them musical numbers. We started off with 20 minutes of music and have gone back and forth a lot until we got to today’s product.”

In the work the dancers also double as stage hands, which was evident during the run through I saw at Preston Center Dance in Dallas last Wednesday morning. When not executing movement in the center, the dancers are constructing a tent out of canes and fabric, playing a game of cards and actively observing their surroundings, just to give a few examples.

Peugh explains, “We played a lot of theater games and one of them was about making yourself very present and aware and basing everything you do on things outside your circle so you are inviting things to happen instead of making them happen, which is already the principles that I run the company on in the first place, but we are now expanding that in different directions.”

The example he gives is in regard to the architecture of the room. Because this show follows a narrative, Peugh had his dancers do a lot of exercises that had to do with using what is there in the space. “Everything you see in the show is stuff that was laying around the studio. So, everything is sort of a found object and not a created one and that mirrors the world we are trying to create in this dance.”

There were a lot of moving parts just within the first 20 minutes that I got to see of the show, so I will try to break it down for you without giving too much away. Company veteran El-khoury portrays the role of Aladdin and we get to witness his inner struggle of questioning certain rules and customs of the culture that he was born into and then coming to America and trying to fit in here. El-khoury’s journey of discovery involves two genies: the genie of the ring played by Jaiquan Laurencin and the genie of the lamp played by Lena Oren.

El-khoury moves with laser focus and incredible control during rehearsal. Deep lunges, swirling arms and rhythmic hip isolations are at the crux of most of his individual movement phrases. Over the last two years he has put on some noticeable bulk and his technical execution and artistic depth continues to flourish with every new piece the company puts out.

“He works really hard to make this happen,” Peugh says about El-khoury’s artistic growth. “He still works a full time corporate job and he works really hard to dance the way he wants. He has grown incredibly in the last several years. He’s fighting for it and he really loves dancing and it give him pleasure so that’s ultimately where it all starts from in the first place.”

Peugh admits that the creative process for this show has been a completely new experience for him. He doesn’t like to give his dancers too many details because he likes to see how the dancers take the material and make it their own. So, sitting down with the dancers after every rehearsal to talk about the narrative is really a foreign concept for him. Peugh says on the second day of rehearsals he asked the dancers to bring in a list or make a presentation to the group about the question ‘What is Middle Eastern?’ and from there he had the dancers take their lists and make a movement phrase based off one plotline in the story, and that is how the choreography for the show came to fruition.

“It was a really organic process,” Peugh says. “This has been one of the most fun, creative processes I have ever had. I have learned a ton and I am super proud of the work everyone has done. Everyone has put in a lot more than a few hours of learning steps.”

>This preview was originally posted on TheaterJones.com.

 

Fresh Perspectives: Preview of Dallas Black Dance Theatre’s Director’s Choice

Booker T. Alum Rebecca Troyak makes her choreographic debut at Dallas Black Dance Theatre’s Director’s Choice performance this weekend.

l_911224004442
Rebecca Troyak. Photo: Courtesy of Troyak

Dallas — Walking into Bridget L. Moore’s composition class freshman year at Booker T. Washington High School for the Performing and Visual Arts (BTWHSPVA), Rebecca Troyak was immediately drawn to the worldly choreographer’s energy and teaching methods.

“She has such a power about her and she is just a beautiful person inside and out,” Troyak says about her dance mentor. “She is so thoughtful about her work and is so willing to bring something new out of you. I didn’t know I had the ability to choreography until she brought it out of me. She also has had an amazing career and it is refreshing that someone so talented is willing to be so opened about her experiences and share her knowledge.”

Moore shares with TheaterJones that her first choreographer opportunity occurred in college at The Ohio State University with the late Jeraldyne Blunden, founder of Dayton Contemporary Dance Company. “Jeraldyne saw something special in me and invited me to workshop choreography on the dancers in the company,” Moore says. “That was a rare and unique opportunity and was the catalyst for honing my craft as a choreographer. I also had wonderful teachers who continued to push me as an artist even after I had long graduated. These same teachers are now my friends and colleagues and continue to support me and the work that I do. I now offer the same support that was given to me as a young aspiring artist and choreographer.”

Moore’s passion for nurturing the next generation of dancers and performers is just one of the many refreshing characteristics she brings into her role as the new artistic director of Dallas Black Dance Theatre (DBDT), which is evident in the lineup for her first Director’s Choice performance Nov. 3-5 at the Dee and Charles Wyly Theatre in Dallas. Along with an expanded version of Moore’s Uncharted Territory, the program also features Andy Noble’s Tower and a duet by newcomer Troyak.

moore-featured-800x445
Moore in rehearsal with DBDT. Photo: Xavier Mack

“Bridget has this kind of mindset where she wants to nurture young artists, which is so wonderful and I am so grateful that she wants to help nurture me still at this time in my life,” Troyak says. “I mean it is definitely scary walking into a room knowing that I am younger than most of the dancers, but everyone at DBDT was so responsive and supportive that it made the process really easy.”

“I have always been impressed with Rebecca,” Moore says about her decision to have Troyak work with the company. “But I was extremely pleased to see her sensibility and approach to working in a professional setting with DBDT. The dancers were very receptive to her process, and she being a college student had no bearing on her artistic integrity, information shared with the dancers or the professionalism she brought to DBDT.”

“Rebecca is exceptionally gifted, both as a performer and choreographer, and is a young artist with considerable promise. There is a level of maturity and sophistication about her work and that is essentially the reason why Monophonic was selected to be a part of Director’s Choice.” (See a video of a previous performance of Monophonic above.)

Originally from Ontario, Canada, Troyak and her family moved to Dallas when she was 12. She attended BTWHSPVA where she was a member of the Repertory Dance Ensemble I. During her four years there she had the opportunity to work with various renowned choreographers, including Jessica Lang, Dwight Rhoden, Sidra Bell, Lar Lubovich, Takehiro Ueyama, Clifford Williams, Troy Powell, Adam Houghland and Andy Noble. Troyak has also trained at Hubbard Street Dance Chicago, Batsheva Dance Company, San Francisco Conservatory of Dance, Complexions Contemporary Ballet and the Joffrey Ballet School. Troyak is currently a junior at the University of Southern California’s Glorya Kaufman School of Dance under the direction of Jodie Gates and William Forsythe.

Troyak will be presenting her work Monophonic, which is a duet she created alongside her best friend during her senior year at BTWHSPVA. The piece explores the couple’s unique relationship using a blend of contemporary and modern movement devices. “I say we are an unlikely duo because we are complete opposites. He is super outgoing and I am on the shy side, but what makes are relationship work is that he has given me so many qualities of him and vice versa and we have become better people because of each other.” She adds, “The piece is really just about exploring the give and take of relationships and human interaction and connection in general, and what we have to offer one another.”

Troyak points out that name of the piece, Monophonic, is a musical term meaning one sound. She says the dancers demonstrate this idea by staying separated in the beginning, but as the work evolves they come together to be one person or one sound. “So, they are not individuals by the end. There are two people who have given and taken so much of each other that they are in harmony with one another.”

The music Troyak selected is a dramatic opera piece that she says fits her choreographic personality. “I am an emotionally driven person so, I like music that is emotionally charged and that is what I found in this opera piece.” She adds, “When I am dancing I like to feel the music. I don’t want to just do shapes in the space. I want to feel every moment that I am making in space and feel the intention and purpose of what I am doing and I think music is so powerful and it definitely drives my movement a lot of times.”

After teaching a company class and watching the dancers improv for a bit, Troyak chose DBDT company members Claude Alexander III and Jasmine White-Killins to perform her piece with Zion Pradier and Hana Delong acting as their understudies. Known for his dynamic stage presence, lyrical athleticism and effortless partnering, it’s no surprise why Troyak chose to work with Alexander. What is surprising is that Alexander will be dancing with White-Killins after being paired up with Alyssa Harrington for multiple seasons. (Harrington moved on from DBDT at the end of last season.) “Because I didn’t really know the dancers going into this process I relied on my instincts when it came to matching up the couples. I just kept switching them around and I just kept going back to Claude and Jasmine.” When asked what drew her to these two dancers Troyak says, “During company class Claude caught my eye right away. He has something really unique to offer, which this piece definitely requires. And what is awesome too is that Claude and Jasmine are actually really good friends and so they could really connect to the work.”

Troyak also says this experience has taught her a lot about herself, including how to take ownership of the room and how to share her knowledge in terms that the dancers could easily understand. “It was a different task for me and I am thankful to Bridget for allowing me to have complete control from beginning to end. Troyak adds, “What has surprised me the most about myself during this process is my ability to take ownership and lead the space. Because I’ve been so used to the other role where I listen and don’t talk, I surprised myself by being able to take charge and go up to the front of the room and say exactly what I wanted. And what was really amazing for me was watching the dancers’ change how they were moving to fit the demands of the dance.”

>This preview was originally posted on TheaterJones.com.

 

 

Preview: Bombshell Dance Project

Both Headshot - Photo credit Katie Bernet
Photo: Katie Bernet

Emily Bernet and Taylor Rodman of Bombshell Dance Project on their unique partnership and creating their first program in Dallas.

Dallas — Together, Emily Bernet and Taylor Rodman tenderly cup their faces before slowly moving their hands down their bodies in a mildly seductive manner to the sweet sound of Marilyn Monroe’s voice as she answers a reporter’s question about whether or not she is happy. “If anything I am genuinely miserable,” Monroe states as Bernet and Rodman walk, glide and jump from one side of the space to the other, stopping intermittently to engage each other in catch and release action and simple gesturing such as a hand to the chest or a head on the other person’s shoulder. As the music changes so does the dancers’ movement quality, which becomes more aggressive and robust before once again slowing down and eventually fading out.

Meant to Be Seen showcases both Bernet and Rodman’s classical and modern dance backgrounds as well as their curious nature and instinctual approaches to movement, which they explored deeper during their time with Dallas-based Dark Circles Contemporary Dance. The eight-minute duet also features the dancers’ penchant for more explosive and full-bodied movement, which the dance partners and best friends point out is the main reason they formed Bombshell Dance Project in 2016. “The name has an ironic ring to it since neither of us are blonde or very curvaceous,” Bernet says.

Rodman adds, “I just feel like the word ‘bombshell’ in itself is pretty universal and empowering, which ties in nicely with what we want to achieve with the company.”

So, it seems quite fitting that the two would gravitate to text and music by their movie icons Monroe and Aubrey Hepburn in their first company work, Meant to Be Seen. The piece will be presented along with There I Said It and Kismet in the Bombshells’ first Dallas program at the Sammons Center for the Arts on Oct. 20. When asked what ties these three works together Bernet says it’s not so much a theme as it is a feeling. “For the last year we have been caught up in this feeling of angst, but it’s contrasted,” Bernet explains. “We talk a lot about contrast and underlying feelings such as what something looks like versus what it is or how it feels. And also what people look like on the outside versus what’s on the inside.”

Bernet and Rodman met their sophomore year at Booker T. Washington High School for the Performing and Visual Arts, but say they didn’t get close until their junior year when they joined the repertory dance company. “We just clicked right away as friends and creatively speaking,” Bernet says. “We are both pretty easy going and are drawn to movement that is big and powerful more so than soft and structured.”

Meant to Be Seen. Photo: Lynn Lane

The two say that they never saw themselves as the balletic type—instead preferring the challenges and artistic freedom associated with modern and contemporary movement. “I never really saw the ballerina in me,” Bernet says. “I started in a competition studio, but the second I found modern and contemporary in high school and later in college, I knew that is where I belonged.”

Rodman shares a similar story. “My body is just not meant for ballet, which I am totally fine with because I think it has helped me find different pathways and areas that I can use my body and challenge myself in various ways, which really became evident in high school. I just always wanted to be moving really BIG!”

During high school both dancers also found the same mentor in Professor Kyle Richards. “He definitely helped me to trust in what I was creating and to not be afraid to make work,” Bernet says. “One of the first things I learned from him was that the work doesn’t have to be perfect.”

She adds, “He was also big on starting from text and using feelings for inspiration, which has definitely influenced our work.” Nodding in agreement Rodman adds, “He was always really good about telling us not to take ourselves too seriously because in high school you know all the pieces in the shows are going to be super dramatic and intense and he really pushed us to see the lighter side of creating movement.”

After graduation the dynamic duo parted ways, Bernet heading to Southern Methodist University’s Meadows School of the Arts, where she focused on modern dance and performance; with Rodman moving up north to attend Boston Conservatory, where she studied improvisational techniques and choreography. Bernet credits their diverse college experiences with adding more depth and intrigue to their rehearsal process, which she says has made the work something that it wouldn’t be without the two of them.

Explosive, aggressive and full-bodied are just a few of the choice terms Bernet and Rodman use to describe their movement, which the duo says they haven’t been able to do until now. Both dancers learned early on that opportunities to move in such a forceful way would be limited due to their gender, a realization that strongly irked Rodman. “The seed was planted in high school because I always seemed to be in a dress or standing in the wings wanting to do the men’s section because it was so full-bodied and aggressive, yet soft at times and very textured.” This archaic approach to the female’s role on stage really started to bother Rodman in college where she remembers learning the men’s sections on the side just to fulfill that void for more demanding movement.

For those unfamiliar with the general rules of classical and contemporary dance, Rodman explains that in a lot of the roles she has performed since high school she has either been asked to play the damsel in distress or the femme fatale. “I was either made to feel like I couldn’t complete this task without a partner by my side or asked to be overtly sexual in a non-sexual kind of way, whereas the men’s sections were always extremely big, exciting and used the entire stage.”

Walking into Preston Center Dance where the Bombshells were rehearsing a couple of weeks ago I knew I was in for a very relaxed and fun experience if the dancers giggling from down the hall was an indicator. Bernet and Rodman were very considerate of each other during the rehearsal, taking turns answering questions and later taking turns with suggestions or critiques when going over movement. The two could also communicate with one another using just a look, which they say is one of the advantages of being such close friends.

“As far as creating movement I think it has been easy for us because we know each other so well,” Bernet says. “When we work collaboratively a lot of the time I will do a move and then she will do a move and eventually it kind of blurs together.”

Rodman adds, “Just being the two of us in the room this first year has been great because we work so well together that most of the time we don’t need to talk we just keep moving.”

>This preview was originally posted on TheaterJones.com.

 

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.