Danielle Georgiou has danced in some odd places – empty warehouses, streets and homes. Now the founder of Danielle Georgiou Dance Group is bringing her new show, called “Nice,” to a more traditional space – the 6th floor of the Wyly Theater. It’s part of the “Elevator Project,” an attempt to give smaller arts groups some visibility in the Dallas Arts District. Georgiou says she and her dancers use old etiquette rules and ’40s music to examine what happens when we try too hard to behave.
- Danielle Georgiou Dance Group presents NICE, starting Thurs., at the Wyly Theater.
- Listen to the interview that aired on KERA FM
- Excerpts and extras from our chat:
On choreographing for and dancing in unusual spaces.“I generally tend to do small, sort of alternative spaces, like art galleries, concrete warehouses; I’ve done a performance on the street. Those concrete warehouses have no air conditioning or heating, and the floors are concrete so they hurt, a lot. I have a lot of bruises, but it’s great because they really push you as a professor to expand and work on your emotion and the reality of the situation that you’re in. I have worked in theater. It’s rare, but when we do it, we try to pretend it’s not a theater – no walls, no curtains, no lights, nothing. We change the space around so that you no longer know it’s a theater. If you walk into a DGDG performance in a theater space, we want you to forget that you’re at the theater; we want you to think that you’re in our little world with us.
On being part of the AT&T Performing Art Center’s “Elevator Project” and using the 6th floor space at the Wyly Theater. I think the first part that appealed to me was the fact that it was in the Arts District and that the Wyly and the AT&T Performing Arts Center (ATTPAC) were opening their doors. To be one of the companies invited, one of the smaller local companies in Dallas, it was an honor. The moment I got the phone call about it, I immediately said yes. It’s huge exposure. It shows that the city has a lot of support for local arts and local artists. It’s a really good experience for the dancers and myself to work in an established space like this.
On deciding to start a dance company…It actually happened by happenstance. I didn’t really have the intention of starting anything. I did a performance at the National Performance Network’s annual conference in Dallas in 2010 and got a commissioning by Teatro Dallas. When we were setting up for that, Cora Cardona, the Artistic Director, asked me what the name of my company was and I was like, “Oh… Well, I guess it’s DGDG” because the dancers at the time had said that my initials were “Dance Group” so it made sense. And then we had a company – it happened just like that.
On what she looks for in dancers….I think that technique is really great and needed as your foundation, but it’s not your identity. I want people who are willing to try new things and explore and experiment and not be afraid to fail. From that, we can make some really great projects. I’m looking for people who are fearless. I don’t see people’s sizes. I’m choosing dancers because of how they interpret the work. I could care less what size they are or how tall they are or how short they are or their hair color. – I really don’t care about body type because you could be rail thin but you are dead in the face, and that’s not what I want on the stage. I want people who look like real people and who the audience can say, “I know that person.”
On NICE… NICE is exactly what it sounds like it’s going to be. It’s going to be a very nice show. It’s based on Emily Post’s rules of etiquette and the reason why I chose that is that I grew up reading those rules, not because my parents wanted me to follow them, but because I was interested in these antiquated laws about how we are supposed to behave because I was raised to not behave that way. I find that, where we are in society right now, we’ve kind of forgotten how to be polite, and there are certain consequences that come with that. Through dance, which doesn’t always have to use words, it’s a really great way to see how we physicalize our niceness and our meanness.
How the audience affects the piece…We make immersive, interactive work, so our audience is a huge part of our show. How they show up and participate will dictate the course of our show. We just had a Kickstarter, and one of the donation rewards was that you could get a personalized song. So when that audience member shows up to the show, they’ll be greeted by the dancer who will find out a little bit about them, and then Paul Slavens will improvise a song on the spot, which is what he’s known for doing and what he’s really great at. There are different parts, and I don’t want to give too much away, but we will ask our audience members who are willing to participate. Those that are willing to participate will become a part of the show, and those that would just rather be a traditional audience member can just sit back and enjoy; we will definitely allow them to do that. We don’t want to alienate, but if somebody wants to be involved, we welcome that.
On the music in the show…The music is a combination of originally composed songs by Paul Slavens, as well as archival songs from Arthur Godfrey, who is a 1940s musician and who wrote some really interesting pieces of music that we have selected for the show. I don’t even know how to describe them other than misogynistic, and very appropriate for the ‘40s. They are still accurate today, people still think this way, say this, and behave this way. We have the “Too Fat” polka and then this song called “Slap Her Down Again.” In this song, Godfrey is talking about a daughter that went out, went against her father, and decided to sleep with a man that she shouldn’t have slept with. In the song they tell her it’s okay, slap her down again Pa, teach her a lesson. People still think this way. It happens much more often than we would like to talk about, but it’s there.
On being collaborative: I work fully collaboratively. I don’t think that I’ve done a project by myself since 2011. Every work that we do in DGDG comes from my brain as well as from the dancers. It’s really important that they have a say in it because they’re performing it. I don’t perform my own work, it’s a rare occasion that I’m dancing with the company, so I want to know what feels good and what doesn’t feel good. If something hurts them, I want to make sure we get rid of that because that shouldn’t be there. The more connection that they have to the work and the more ownership that they have over it, the more real it will become on stage. In our last two productions, Dirty Filthy Diamonds which was last year at the Margo Jones Theatre in Fair Park, and now NICE, Justin Locklear has had a heavy influence in the work. He writes the scripts, he is their acting coach, and their singing coach. For this show, NICE, I actually have an assistant choreographer, which is the first time that has happened. His name is Josh Nichols and he’s been with the company since it started. He approached me and he wanted to develop his choreographic voice, so I told him to join in. He’s been instrumental in helping create these common threads through the work. We need Paul’s input because he’s the music man. He tells them so many things about tempo and rhythm that I can’t. Without everybody’s work, we wouldn’t have the company. Whenever anyone asks me if I’m in charge, I tell them no. I mean, I write the checks, I pay for things, and I make sure they have clothes on, but we do this together. They’re my family, they’re my best friends, and it feels right to include them.
Is that common in the dance world?… No, not at all. I think it’s becoming more common. It’s more common in theater, and we are a dance theater company. I think that my theater background, and Justin’s theater background, is what has helped shape us in this collaborative process, in this devising process. But in dance, no, you generally have your choreographer who tells you the steps, what to do, and where to be, and you have your director. As a dancer, you’re told to just smile, do your job, and go home.
Be nice? Be nice. Exactly.