IMAGE ABOVE: Photo from the performance of “Pizzicato Porno” at the Margo Jones Theatre in Dallas, TX in August of 2013. Image courtesy of Hampton Mills.
Danielle Georgiou is a dance installation and video performance artist based in Dallas, TX. Her work has been shown across Texas, New York (Horton Gallery), California (Rogue Fringe Festival), Florida (Bosch Film Festival), and Oregon (Portland’s Experimental Film Festival). She was recently included in the 2013 Texas Biennial and the 2nd Berlin Becher Triennial (Germany), and will have a solo show in 2014 at Women and their Work in Austin. She recently completed a two-year residency at CentralTrak—UT Dallas’ Artist Residency program. Currently, she is the visiting scholar in Dance at Eastfield College, the director of the UT Arlington Dance Ensemble, and is currently working on her Ph.D. in Aesthetic Studies at the University of Texas at Dallas. A + C editor in chief Nancy Wozny visited with Georgiou about the underpinnings of her work and her upcoming show Dirty Filthy Diamonds at Margo Jones Theater in Dallas.
Arts + Culture TX: You describe yourself as a dance installation artist. What does that entail?
Danielle Georgiou: When I first started the Danielle Georgiou Dance Group (DGDG), I found myself combining my choreographic work with videos as well as three-dimensional pieces that were created specifically for the spaces that we were performing in. In one of our first pieces at a warehouse in the Dallas Design District, the performance was created as a site-specific work that used the existing architecture as the set pieces, and was a fully immersive piece that had no true beginning or true end. The dancers would just appear in the space, around the audience, and would determine when the piece would start and stop. It was based around the concept of a happening—a performance that generally has a nonlinear narrative and included active participation from the audience. bien dans sa peau was my first experiment in creating a happening of my own. It was structurally based on improvised movement combined with known phrases of choreography, and pushed the dancers to be aware of the audience’s emotions and needs and to instinctively respond to them.
A + C: Tell us about your dance background.
DG: I was trained in classical ballet at a young age, which created a solid foundation for other styles, as well as teaching. The ballet school I attended focused on Balanchine technique, but also provided a well-rounded education in jazz, specifically Fosse, tap, and contemporary. But it was in high school when I was first introduced to modern dance, and when my heart was stolen.
The instructors that I studied under focused on traditional modern techniques, from Graham to Cunningham to Limon to Horton. I was really fortunate to have been exposed to these varying techniques at a young age and an age when I was easily moldable and influenced. And it was also in high school when I had the chance to perform with a professional company, Elledanceworks (based in Dallas, TX).
It wasn’t until I auditioned for Muscle Memory Dance Theatre(M2DT) that I realized that I could really do this. M2DT was the first time I was taught and performed works that were a hybrid of techniques. Before, I had solely done ballet or solely a specifically style of modern, but with M2DT, we were challenged by choreography that combined Afro-Caribbean movement with Graham ideas topped off by Ailey’s full-body movements and Horton’s shapes. It was also one of the first times I was working on pieces that were narrative based and pushed for the dancers to be actors. It was a fundamental time for me, and one that was further shaped when I entered graduate school at the University of Texas at Dallas.
A + C: Do you also consider your lineage in performance art, which has a different history than experimental dance?
DG: I’m from both worlds. I’ve had the opportunity to work with choreographers who are very true to their technical backgrounds, but who want to explore nontraditional environments, and that has had a huge impact on how I view the creative process. I want to blur the line between a traditional dance performance, performance art, and installation.
With my own work as a video performance artist/dance installation artist and my work with DGDG, I have moved myself away from a proscenium stage, but yet, I still have the responsibility to entertain and create a mirror for the audience. It’s theater in a new holy space. I’ve committed myself and DGDG to exploring this: creating environments and situations with the dance works that we are producing. Installing them in new ways. And there is also a large untapped dance audience that don’t particularly like going to the theater, and I have been able to approach those spectators that traditional dance companies aren’t able to reach.
A + C: Your next piece, Dirty Filthy Diamonds, takes place in a theater! Bring us into this new project.
DG: Dirty Filthy Diamonds concerns the perverse honesty of humanity. We are the Dirty Filthy Diamonds. Beautiful. Strange. Divine. Hungry. Humans exhibit a duality of thought and instinct, which makes them very fascinating to investigate. There are several vignettes that explore isolated moments in status relationships, and an over-arching movement aesthetic to establish the environment and physical vocabulary. The show is non-verbal, basing a bulk of the narrative structure in movement and gesture. This makes the piece more approachable on a physical level, much like puppetry and clown. We are very excited to be working on this collaboration, bringing a dance company out of the theater, twisting it in all the right ways, and thrusting it back in the theater.
A + C: You are a bit of a prankster. Where does that come from?
DG: I love the work of Buster Keaton, the Marx Brothers, Charlie Chaplin and Andy Kaufman. I know these comedians aren’t generally thought of as dancers, but they are clowns in the truest sense of the word, and I’m drawn to ideas of clowning, miming, and Commedia dell’Arte. And, I can’t forget my obsession with pop culture. I find the use of dance in music videos and concert performances fascinating. I adore it: Michael Jackson, TLC, Missy Elliot, Britney Spears, Usher, Justin Timberlake and Beyonce. It’s spectacle, it’s now, it’s what we are tuned into.
I take all of these ideas and work to integrate them into my own teaching pedagogy, both in the studio and in the classroom. I work with dancers who have been training their entire lives to be dancers who are just first stepping into the studio, and I’ve found that one of the things that they have in common is a passion to move and an excitement to learn how their bodies organically behave.
A + C: I’m interested the intersection of dance and galleries/museums going on in Dallas now.
DG: There is an intersection between dance and galleries/museums happening in Dallas, and I would say it’s been going on for a few years. There has been a history of dance companies being asked to perform for specific exhibits at museums for the last decade or so. I remember going to the Dallas Museum of Art and seeing Dallas Black Dance Theatre and Elledanceworks. Those works generally took place in performance halls connected to the museums, but now, we are seeing a resurgence toward a more “Fluxus” type of performance, like the Happenings that I am referencing in my own work.
A + C: Talk about entering the gallery world.
DG: I think that my transition from the stage to the gallery world came on smoothly since I have been living in both worlds. While I have spent over 20 years studying dance and dancing, I have also been pursuing visual art, specifically video art. I have been studying, practicing, and exhibiting my videos for many years now, and have been able to combine my two passions, which I think has made my performance work able to live both on stage and in a gallery space.
I recently had a conversation with a few gallery owners and event coordinators who said that the pop-up works that I started doing, both as a solo artist and with DGDG, really got them thinking about having performances back at their galleries, spaces, and events.
A + C: How do you see what you do as extension of what’s possible in a gallery?
DG: In a recent effort to broaden their patronage and media coverage, galleries are looking back to experimental methods of contemporary art, and that risk and excitement that performance art brought in the 1960s-early 1980s. Performance draws in crowds, it immediately expands what a gallery is known for. And as a performance artist and a dance installation artist, I provide that expertise and opportunity.
With gallery-based performances, I try to integrate video, live performance, music, movement, and installation to reframe an exhibition as an event, lasting more than just an evening. With my performances, it is my hope that spectators, the gallery goers, are immersed into the environment, become one with the work, becoming a part of the piece itself, and allowed to take ownership of their experience.
While music has been a part of many gallery openings and events, dance has not really been a gallerist’s go-to performance type for many years. But there is a resurgence lately, and I have been one of the lucky few in Dallas who has been able to stage my work at local galleries such as Ro2 Art, Red Arrow Contemporary, the Fashion Industry Gallery, and CentralTrak, local museums including, the Dallas Museum of Art, the Dallas Contemporary, and the Fort Worth Modern, and out of town galleries, such as Blue Star Contemporary (for the Texas Biennial) and for an upcoming solo show at Women and their Work in Austin.
A + C: The infrastructure to support performance art, both locally and nationally, is still growing. We need one that can pay artists.
DG: And I have seen this starting to happening. With the works that I have been staging, and a recent performance event and workshop at the McKinney Avenue Contemporary with ex-Trisha Brown Dance Company member Tony Orrico, Dallas is seeing how dance is not just girls in tutus or people walking back and forth across the stage and rolling around, it’s art. It’s performance art, and by putting it in a non-traditional, alternative space, or gallery space, a new door is opened for the public. And that new door is free. Free access to something that is movement based.
A + C: Yes, but the free part can be troubling too. Have you had experiences where you are expected to come, perform, bring your own dancers and not get paid?
DG: Yes, I have had many experiences where I’m expected to come, perform, bring my dancers, create original work, and not get paid. More often than not, this is the case. However, while we may not be paid monetarily, there are other kick-backs: equipment is provided, and in a couple of instances, musicians have been provided, the dancers are taken care of back stage (food/dinner is provided), we become the first on many people’s list for future performances. But the fact that the infrastructure/pay structure is MIA is an issue that I’m always dealing with and trying to overcome.
A + C: What about giving up the holiness of the stage, as in a dance floor and theatrical lighting?
DG: I have come to enjoy and welcome giving up the “holiness” of the stage, because when I enter an empty space, I’m allowed to create a new holy space. It’s exciting, challenging, and invigorating! I value the traditional holy space, however, as Peter Brook said, “holy theatre is the theatre of the invisible made visible” And I believe in that, but I don’t think that a traditional floor and lighting is always necessary to make a holy space. That space is made through the artists and the work.
A + C: In a gallery or museum setting the audience is not contained, but free to roam. It’s a viewer centric experience. Are you perfectly fine with people walking by your performance like an object?
DG: Yes, I am. The dance is an object; it’s the space that affects the narrative. If there were chairs, lights, and curtains, you would approach the dance very differently. The gallery space allows you to inspect a dance for what it truly is: a work of art. You can get up close to the moving sculpture, you can hear the pulsing human sounds, the breath and the color. I think it surprises people that dance can truly satisfy their aesthetic needs. Taking it out of the traditional stage space opens up this opportunity.
When the performers are invested, a dance should be spellbinding. No matter the venue. And, I’m a believer in the idea that an audience should be participating by discretion. It’s their choice to watch; it’s their choice to be involved. Placing dance in a gallery puts the performance in the hands of the audience. They made the choice to be there, they can make the choice to watch.
A + C: Talk about your early experiments in dance installation.
DG: The first non-traditional show that I staged, the first in an alternative space, was daunting. It was in a 13,000 square foot warehouse with a brushed concrete floor, florescent lights overhead, and structural columns (for bien dans sa peau). I had no idea how to confront this. And then I just decided to embrace the industrialness of it. I made a site-specific work that used the columns as “set-pieces” and the dancers traveled throughout entire space, making it a work that fell in line with the concepts of environmental theater, and was also inherently immersive, as it involved the audience as both participants (as they became a part of the dance as the performers moved in and around them) and voyeurs. I also installed work lamps/construction lights that filled the space with an amber glow instead of the hard white of the florescent. It created an intimate atmosphere, and lovely shadow play!
A + C: Do you see Pizzicato Porno, a work that you perform with your partner, Justin Locklear, as your most fully realized work?
DG: Pizzicato Porno is the most transportable of my pieces, but I would say it is one among the most fully realized pieces of my body of work. Each performance is completely finished from top to bottom; nothing is left out, from the costumes, to the set, to the videos, to the originally composed music, whether it is a performance for one-night only or traveled around.
The piece also marks a point in my career where I have begun to solidify my voice. I’m really finding myself in this work, as it continues to evolve every time it is constructed and performed.
A + C: Set the scene for us.
DG: In a performance of Pizzicato we construct an environment out of 30-50 large-scale weather balloons and project a series of four films that I made throughout 2012 and early 2013. The films bookend vignettes of composed music and movement that Justin and I created. Justin also helped to develop a loose script that provides a complimentary narrative to the work. It’s this part that I think makes Pizzicato slightly different from my other installation performances as it is a mixed-media work that is also a work of theater.
A + C: Is it your hope that the video components of your work can stand alone?
DG: Yes, it is and they do. The four films [in Pizzicato] have been shown as a complete series and as individual works at different galleries, from my two-person show at the Horton Gallery (New York) in 2012 to most recently at the Eugene Binder Gallery in Marfa for the 2013 Chianti Weekend. The first work that explored this idea was, “Ceci, n’est pas une vie,” which was performed and filmed throughout 2010 and 2011. It was the first piece that I collaborated with a filmmaker and crew to create and was the piece that jump-started DGDG. We performed it at the National Performance Network’s Annual Conference that was held in Dallas in 2010, and it was there that Cora Cordona of Teatro Dallas saw it and commissioned a two-week long run from me. The film, under the title of Roam, also showed as a stand only dance film at the Dallas VideoFest in 2011 and ChickFlicks in 2011.
A + C: What advice to you have for a choreographer venturing out into a gallery/museum setting?
DG: Find the artists you like, do a project with them, and talk to people. You have to be in the places you want to be in. Show up and be excited and care about the spaces, and they will care about you back. Be memorable.