Dallas — “My pieces grow from the inside out.”
This quote from Pina Bausch has stuck with me for the last few years, and has become particularly relevant in my own work as DGDG has grown and graduated from small one-off performances to month-long runs at local theaters and touring shows. It has developed the basis of how DGDG is comprised, both in the performers that we work with and the shows that we create. Since DGDG began in 2011, I’ve committed myself to working collaboratively with the dancers for each production, and since 2014, the live musicians that have come on board. However, our current show, The Show About Men, which will premiere at the 2015 Festival of Independent Theatres (our first show is on July 10 at 8 p.m.), has finally realized that collaborative spirit. This is the first production that we have worked on that fits into the definition of the collaborative process and falls comfortably in the realm of devised theater.
Briefly, the style and method of a DGDG production can be described as such:
- They are built on episodes of dialogue and action that are often centered on a societal incident or situation.
- Actions are multilayered, yet simple in their choreographic structure to allow the “human” and “organic” quality of the performer come through.
- The work is either absent of a sustainable plot (2012’s What This Is Not About and What This Was Never About), or follow a more traditional sense of progression (2014’s Dirty Filthy Diamonds), or create an environment that allows the for the revelation of the characters and audience (2014’s NICE and 2015’s The Show About Men).
- The performers frequently address the audience and interact with them.
- Repetition is a pivotal device used as either a means of alienation, to resolve the action, or to create a connecting thread throughout the production—developed through the repeated use of songs, rhythms, and movement.
From these characteristics, it’s safe to say that what we are making in DGDG is not easily classified as “dance,” at least not in the conventional sense. Nor is it traditional theater, since dialogue doesn’t always sustain the plot. It’s something in-between. Ready to evolve into what it needs to be. Something between definitive choreography and real motivation to move through space. Something fluid and transitive; yet, always expressive—this is a mark of one of the greatest influences on my creative process, Ausdruckstanz, or “expressive dance,” a hallmark of dance in 1920s Germany. It looked to everyday movements to communicate personal experiences, and developed a movement language that was based on gestures and expressions. It had its origins in modern dance with Rudolf von Laban and Mary Wigman, but it was Bausch who gave it a recognizable place in concert dance, and would become known as Tanztheater, or dance-theater.
Bausch wanted to reveal the part of the story that had heretofore been untold, and to do so, she used elements such as strong imagery, violence, and repetition; much of her work is about the aggression between sexes and she exploits those relationships to evoke an emotional response from both her dances and the audience. The influence of Bausch’s creative process can been seen in many, if not all of my works, but specifically in this new production, The Show About Men. Bausch believed that she was making the work she was creating because it needed to be made, and she was less concerned with entertaining the audience, and more interested in challenging them and their beliefs. This has become a principal of Tanztheater, and fundamental element of contemporary dance work that has been interpreted in a variety of ways by dance artists today.
My co-director, Justin Locklear, and I have taken this concept to heart and have been pushing ourselves, both individually and as a unit, to find our own into this idea. The first piece we created collaboratively was Dirty Filthy Diamonds, and then NICE. Both were explorations of what defines dance-theater and what defines our idea of collaboration. While both shows were very successful, Justin and I felt that something was missing. We were collaborating on the scripts and movement, and with the musicians on the score, but the performers were not as involved as we initially had intended them to be. We are very lucky to work with performers whom trust us completely, and who we in turn, trust; we’ve spent years together (even before DGDG was founded in 2011), as colleagues and friends. But their voices were missing—their actual stories, their ideas and thoughts. We wanted to work to rectify that and to create an environment that welcoming and inviting for exploration and creation. We knew that our next piece would be one that was fully devised and collaborative from ourselves, and the team.
This brings me to the creation of The Show About Men. A big question that came from Justin, from the performers, and that I have been asked to answer from critics and fellow writers and dancemakers, is why I decided to a show about men. When Justin and I first discussed it, my answer was simple, and slightly off the cuff: I was tired of working with women. Not that I was sick of working with women, or done working with women; I just wanted to experience what it would be like to work with only men and to explore what it is to be a man. My work up until this point has been centered on the “feminine,” on social and psychological issues that women face, and in creating compelling images of a “new female.” But why should men be left out of this equation? I didn’t have an answer for that, and I knew that I needed to explore the “masculine” side of things. At the risk of sounding trite, I just wanted to know what it was like to be a man. Growing up, I always questioned why we girls had to be separated from the boys during our sex education classes, why boys and girls couldn’t use the same restroom, why it was perfectly acceptable for me to shop in the men’s section and buy oversized button-ups, but not acceptable for a man to buy women’s jeans, that cute shirt from Forever 21, or paint their nails. It’s not that I’m unaware of the gender divide that society has imprinted on us, I just don’t agree with it. Dichotomies make sense in scientific terms, but when you think about them in your personal life, in the lives of the community that you live in, nothing is black and white.
Justin and I started developing a piece from our initial conversations, and came up with synopsis that has followed us into production: The Show About Men is concerned with the catch-22 of manhood in modern culture. Men are paid more, given more opportunities, and benefit from tremendous social privilege; their freedom is rarely in question, and they are often in charge of deciding the freedoms of women and children. With such benefits, do men really have a place to express their anxiety, explore their emotions, or voice their opinion without being less “manly?”
This is definitely a question that I am not qualified to answer. Neither would the female dancers of DGDG be able to. We needed the male voice. We needed a cast of just men. We needed them to help us give a point of view that was both personal and general.
The individual’s experience has always been a critical component of my process, and finding ways to express it in bodily terms has always been a critical component of my choreography, but this was a new territory for me. Male body language is foreign to me. I could only guess as to what would work on the male form, what would translate best from script to stage; I needed the input of the men around me.
That was our entry point into the rehearsal process. We spent the first couple of weeks brainstorming, workshopping, and discussing themes we wanted to address regarding men with our cast. We created surveys and writing prompts to direct the conversations and address current topics regarding gender. When filling out the surveys or when asked questions, some responded spontaneously, others took their time, contemplating, and even reworking and rethinking their answers. But in all cases, the results were brutal honest insights into our casts’ personal lives. The resulting stories, images, and gestures are the backbone of this piece. Each performer’s body tells its own story based on what it has experienced personally.
It’s been enlightening, it’s been heartbreaking, and it’s been the most successful rehearsal process I have ever been a part of it, because as we are now entering the technical and performance phase of our production, I feel so bonded and safe with the cast—and that is reflected in their contributions and performance.
This brings me back to Bausch. She was known to say that her pieces “grow from the inside out,” that the person is what was important. Even when critics commented that her dancers didn’t look like dancers, referring to the fact that they were of all shapes, sizes, ages, and experience, she stood firm in her belief that it wasn’t the choreography that was important, but it was the person and their story, their connection to the work.
I subscribe to this thought. When I started DGDG, I always said that I didn’t want to work with dancers; I wanted to work with performers. That technique should always be your foundation, but it should never be your identity. Trained dancers are great, but the desire to move, to put in the time and effort to train your body, and to learn a new art form, is more important to me than how many pirouettes you can stick and elevation of your arabesque. With this show, we branched out further than we have ever done before, casting trained dancers alongside seasoned actors—and actors who were more than willing to take dance classes daily to improve their stamina and technique. That passion and dedication is reflected in The Show About Men, making it what I think is our most definitive piece yet.
We are excited to premiere this work at the 2015 Festival of Independent of Theatres in a setting that fosters new work, the collaborative spirit, and the creative process.
» Danielle Georgiou is a dance educator, critic and writer. She is the Founder and Artistic Director of DGDG (Danielle Georgiou Dance Group) and is a working dancer and performance artist. Her column Sixth Position appears the last Sunday of the month on TheaterJones.com.
Previous columns are:
- February 2014: Cash Choreography
- March 2014: Make the Fringe Your Future
- April 2014: Don't Freak Out, It's Just an Audition
- May 2014: You Love Dance. You're Not Alone
- June 2014: Persevering Through Movement
- July 2014: Sharing in Success
- August 2014: To the Barre
- September 2014: Method Act
- October 2014: Fear of Flying
- December 2014: The Editor Dance
- January 2015: Community Relations
- February 2015: The Fabric of Movement
- March 2015: State of the Dance
- April 2015: The Dance Mom Complex
- May 2015: Who Wants to Date a Dancer?