Dallas — Danielle Georgiou Dance Group’s imaginary NICE veers pretty far afield from anything remotely “nice.” The ratio of “nice” to “not nice” is about 7 to 93, and that’s pushing it. But then, artistic director and choreographer Danielle Georgiou revels in the unexpected.
Inspired too—or rather goaded—by Paul Slavens’ commanding voice and a zany script by Justin Locklear, the action is both strange and spirited. The scene and lighting (designed by Lori Honeycutt) create a bizarre and mysterious atmosphere, something on the lines of a haunted house with the audience seated only a few feet away. Everything is black, gray or white, and for the most part the dancers’ costumes are subdued too, ranging is hue from black to pale yellow.
When the dancers emerge half-hidden between long columns of crumpled white paper, they move with a slow and stately gate. Fog and dim light makes it even harder to make out the figures. Slavens intones something on the lines of “From the day you’re born till the day you die, I just want you to be nice.” The words are almost a chant, spoken in a voice like a character in Alice in Wonderland or the cripple in Clockwork Orange. In short, a voice both soothing and eerie.
It doesn’t take long for the dancers to scatter in all directions, ripping out paper with zeal as they go as go. When they regroup, they recite lines like “I don’t care how much I weigh, I still think I look good” or “I don’t care what my father says, I’m not going back to church.”
And then things get wild as men tumble, pop back up and scoot on the floor. The women look on bemusedly, clap and smile. In one of the few “nice” sequences, couples embrace and waltz. As an onlooker, you never know where NICE, which is presented in the inaugural season of the AT&T Performing Arts Center’s Elevator Project, is going. At one moment—as when a debutante in jeans and jacket is proclaimed the belle of the ball—everything is silly and giddy. To show their appreciation, the men drop their trousers. Then it turns serious and strange, as when bare-chested Joshua Nickols, wearing a black tutu, runs in circles, leaps and swirls, Swan Lake fashion. Several men grab him and cart him off.
Along with the rapid costume changes (women dolled up in glitter, everyone down to their underwear, coats discarded, tutu donned) the action changed dramatically in mood. It gets especially troubling during a number of duets and trios. The men are more than aggressive. The very tall Gabriel King manhandles a terrified Veena Naik and then hands her off to Colby Calhoun, who is hardly any nicer. At one point the two men run their hands down her chest, hips and legs as she struggles to get free.
Toward the end, the women confront the men, coming up close, moving back, and eventually screaming and pushing. The men stand immobile. At last, as Slavens chants “it’s nice to be nice” once again, dancers leap into the laps of members of the audience, and then disappear, moving in one long line toward the back of the house.
Fantastical, dreamlike and often funny, NICE captures the complex rhythm of contemporary life as the youth of today experience it.
» Margaret Putnam has been writing about dance since 1980, with works published by D Magazine, The Dallas Observer, The Dallas Times Herald, The Dallas Morning News, The New York Times, Playbill, Stagebill, Pointe Magazine and Dance Magazine.
» Read our preview story about NICE here.
» Read more about the Elevator Project here.