Danielle Georgiou Dance Group in Just Girly Things. Photo: courtesy of DGDG
Danielle Georgiou Dance Group (DGDG) made my summer last year with their zany dance theater work Donkey Beach. An ode to the 1960s’ beach movie genre and Disney’s Teen Beach Movie the musical follows a group of campers as they are transported to one super awesome beach party after drinking some magical water. As in all of her works Georgiou addresses taboo topics such as gender roles, sexuality and female equality through her own blend of song, dance and dialogue that usually has the audience laughing and cringing at the same time.
This summer DGDG will stay true to its feminist roots, but always with a unique twist in Just Girly Things, part of the Festival of Independent Theatres’ 20th anniversary at Bath House Culutral Center at the end of July.
On its Kickstarter page Just Girly Things is described as a delightfully raw and painfully honest piece of dance theater, which centers on the complicated relationships between women and the obstacles that they place between each other in an already tenuous environment. Chocked full of songs and dances inspired by 1990s’ pop culture and television sitcoms, this musical comedy will show the lengths women will go to resist disappointment and achieve perfection. The production is written by Georgiou and Ruban Carrazana and includes original music and lyrics by Justin Locklear, Cory Kosel and Trey Pendergrass. I am so pumped to see the Beach Bum band once again. Looking forward to some more catchy tunes 😉
You can check out DGDG in Just Girly Things on the following dates:
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.
Danielle Georgiou Dance Group uses movement, text and original music to depict the democratic nature of honeybees in the new work War Flower at the Bath House Cultural Center.
Dallas — “Unsettling” was the first word that came to mind as I watched Danielle Georgiou Dance Group (DGDG) rehearse War Flower, Georgiou’s latest theatrical dance work, which explores the inner workings of animal societies such as honeybees for insights into the human condition, at the Bath House Cultural Center in Dallas last Friday evening. The heavy electronic beat Donovan Jones plays in the beginning helps set the pace for performer Stephanie Cleghorn Jasso’s passion-filled monologue, which starts with the line “The bees came in the summer of two thousand and whatever.”
Dressed in a modest, floor-length cream dress with a wreath of flowers on top her head, Jasso moves purposely around the minimally adorned space (strips of artificial grass, white plastic chairs and a whole wall decorated in vines with “The Hive” spelled out in twinkling lights) as she tells the story of man’s creation using verses from the Bible. She finishes up by saying “welcome home,” which was the cue for the other 15 performers, all dressed in soft, floral-printed tops and dresses, to come in running and screaming like cavemen. The primitive movement, i.e. concaved shapes, heavy tailbones, rolling and crawling around on all fours, is right in Georgiou’s wheelhouse, along with theatrics, videography and soundscape.
War Flower is Georgiou’s grandest production to date with a cast of 19, including Georgiou, sound specialist Donovan Jones, conceptual designer Justin Locklear and lighting designer Lori Honeycutt, and also features a number of moving parts, including live music, video and small machinery. When asked about the large cast Georgiou says, “I wanted a large cast for the work to help visually build the idea of a community and demonstrate the rituals acts in the piece.” As for performing in her own work, something she hasn’t done in the last couple of years, Georgiou says that was a natural decision.
“When I started working on movement for War Flower in February of 2016 for the faculty dance concert at Eastfield College, I was working with a cast of four dancers, and I slowly began to find myself in the piece with them. Then when it became time to bring in the full cast for the premiere production it just made sense to remain a part of the show. As a dancer I was intimately connected with the work and I almost couldn’t take myself away from it.”
Back to the rehearsal. After the caveman dance, Dallas actor, director and playwright Ruben Carrazana steps forward and begins explaining the finer points of being a honeybee, including the fact that they live to die, to newcomer Vinay Naik. And similar to how Virgil leads Dante through the nine circles of hell, Carrazana then leads Naik through the social and political hierarchy of honeybees while also touching on some of the most controversial human belief systems in the U.S., including Catholicism, Scientology and the Democratic Parties.
Georgiou is known for tackling controversial topics such as sexuality and gender roles in ironic and poignant ways and War Flower appears to be no different in this aspect. Her clever use of metaphors and pop culture references allow viewers to enjoy the show even when their politics don’t align. For example, the text she uses in the show includes sections from The Bible, The Federalist Papers, John Milton’s Paradise Lost, Thomas Paine’s Common Sense as well as lyrics from popular Jay-Z and Nicki Minaj songs. Her decision to center the piece around the lifecycle of honeybees stems from her readings of Honeybee Democracy by animal behaviorist Thomas D. Seeley. Part of the book synopsis reads, “Honeybees make decisions collectively and democratically. Every year, faced with the life-or-death problem of choosing and traveling to a new home, honeybees stake everything on a process that includes collective fact-finding, vigorous debate and consensus building.”
Georgiou describes these tenets through a series of repetitive movement phrases that are executed singularly and collectively while someone is reciting text or performing a ritualistic action such as administering the Kool-Aid to a new cult member. There is also a scene where Carrazana asks Naik a list of yes or no questions in a rapid fire manner while Georgiou checks Naik’s body for signs of stress. This scene is eerily similar to the auditing sessions I recently saw on Alex Gibney’s HBO documentary Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief, which Georgiou did confirm later was her inspiration for the section. She also told me that she got the list of questions from a personality test for Scientologists and a questionnaire that determines your political party, both of which she found online.
Most of the movement in War Flower is simplistic in nature – a lot of pedestrian walking and gesturing, pivoting body isolations and loose hips – but when performed in unison by the group easily captures the essence of the hive mind mentality. Georgiou explains, “For me, the hive mind mentality occurs when a group of people come to the same thought at the same time. Or when people act in unison without any foresight, communication or practice. It’s something instinctual and real. It’s a raw response; a decision made from the heart and gut, not the head.”
She continues, “It’s the group mind at work and that’s what really interested me. How we can make decisions in our hive without ever talking or without ever really knowing each other. It’s both terrifying and enticing. How we act in unison with our social groups, our friend groups, our families, without ever really being aware of where the initial inspiration came from.”
War Flower runs Jan 19-21 and 26-28, at the Bath House Cultural Center in Dallas.