During the mid-1960s, films about beach parties were all the rage. If you’re of a certain generation, or you have an affinity for classic movies, you may have grown up watching these niche films, escaping with Annette Funicello and Frankie Avalon to the simple joy of partying like hell in the summer sun.
With the season officially in full swing, it’s already unbearably hot in Dallas. And while there isn’t a beach within four hours of Dallas, you don’t have to go far for a little summertime escapism.
Danielle Georgiou and her band of dance-theater artists are back with a new production as part of the AT&T Performing Arts Center’s Elevator Project, which gives space and publicity to smaller and emerging artists and performing arts groups.
Danielle Georgiou Dance Group’s newest project, Donkey Beach, is all about — you guessed it — the beach. And maybe donkeys. Georgiou promises you’ll have a good time in the air-conditioned confines of the Winspear Opera House's Hamon Hall this weekend.
Georgiou grew up voraciously consuming beach party movies like Gidget, Muscle Beach Party, Bikini Beach and Beach Blanket Bingo. The bright colors and “wacky worlds” were critical in forming her aesthetic.
“Anything was possible in these films. And kids were kids. There was magic and absurd pranks; it was not real life. It was an escape to the past," she says. "There is something really fascinating about the late 1950s to early 1970s; we had the birth of rock 'n’ roll, the rise of resort and casino culture, and the height of the glamorous world of celebrity and the danger that came with that power. It was a prolific time.”
Prolific is a good way to describe Georgiou’s dance company. Since 2011, the group has presented scores of productions. This will be DGDG’s second gig with The Elevator Project. The 2014 production of Nice explored female stereotypes and sexuality.
There's certainly a lot of the feminine in Donkey Beach. While Georgiou says it's first and foremost an effort to pay homage to the beach party genre, self-aware female leads — who understood there is more to life than just partying — are a key part of those films, and that influenced Donkey Beach.
“Conceptually, we explore femininity in a multitude of ways," Georgiou says. "Regarding the celebration of youth from those films, we present women that are agents of their own exploitation. They understand and appreciate the fun they have and are not victims of circumstance or their gender. They are self-aware individuals in control of their own narratives and bodies. We are referencing the trope and stereotype as we subvert it simultaneously.”
And as for the donkeys? That’s just for fun, Georgiou says.
“It honestly sounded like a funny name for a beach, and the absurdity of that sort of premise led us toward our narrative.”
DGDG usually has more of a conceptual foundation, Georgiou says, but beach parties are about escape, and the group wanted to explore something more fanciful.
“Just say 'Donkey Beach' three times; I guarantee it will put a smile on your face.”
In developing the production, DGDG considered that it were creating a show for the summer. Georgiou wanted to create something with a strong central theme of fun.
“The need for deconstruction drew us to the concept of escape and these beach films," she says. "Much like the Ziegfeld Follies and modern-day Hollywood blockbusters, escape through entertainment has been a very active player in the formation of our culture. This, of course, has led to the solidification of gender tropes in entertainment and storytelling, which gave us a direction that was rife with inspiration.”
Like all DGDG shows, you’ll see a healthy mix of professional and nonprofessional dancers and actors. That’s all part of the design, and collaborating with different artists of varying skill sets lends a unique perspective to the story. Georgiou delights in understanding how our bodies move organically.
“By creating an environment in which they feel confident in their individual expression, I can mold and craft choreography that highlights their energy and personalities," she says.
And the final layer of any DGDG show? Live, original music. This is paramount to the experience. Presence is very important to Georgiou, and music adds a layer to that experience of being present. Justin Locklear, Trey Pendegrass and Cory Kosel have created the music for the show, and Georgiou feels it perfectly encapsulates the joy and freedom expressed by the beach party genre.
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“With any live production, the difference is always presence," she says. "When you’re watching someone dance or sing onstage, you’re getting to be the witness to their presence. In the same way, listening to a brand-new piece of music gives the audience an ownership that is unlike a jukebox musical or perennially produced productions.”
If it sounds a bit wacky, that’s the point. Musical comedy is the key to the door — anyone can connect with that. But the production is also self-aware and absurd. Georgiou believes no matter your experience or knowledge of DGDG going in, you’ll walk out humming the songs.
“You will 100 percent get these songs stuck in your head," she says. "Also, it’s called Donkey Beach. Come on in; the water’s fine. And to those who need a little more incentive: You deserve to spend an evening watching a gratuitous beach party musical, and we’re it."
Donkey Beach, through Sunday, June 25, at Hamon Hall, 2403 Flora St. Showtimes are nightly at 8 p.m., with 2 p.m. matinees Saturday and Sunday. Tickets are $25 at attpac.org.