DGDG’s Things Missing/Missed Finds Balance through Chaos, Connectivity in Isolation
By Adrian Cook
This week, Dallas Art Beat had the opportunity to watch the latest effort from the Danielle Georgiou Dance Group, Things Missing/Missed. The theatrical film, presented by DGDG and Undermain Theatre creates a surreal examination of identity and isolation/identity in isolation.
The performance is written by Melissa Flower, Philip Hays, and Justin Locklear, directed and choreographed by Danielle Georgiou, with scenography by Lori Honeycutt. The performers – led by Colby Calhoun, who is joined in turn by William Acker, Elaina Alspach, and Locklear – have their work cut out for them, and bring Things to life with dance, acting, physical comedy, even shadow puppetry.
Their success is captured deftly by the honed cinematography of Christian Vasquez. The end result is truly a team effort, all of the pieces woven tightly together with this critic’s favorite element, Black Taffy’s original music. The trip-hop scoring is transportive; it wraps itself around your brain and pulls the viewer viscerally through the journey that unfolds.
Things Missing/Missed is neither film nor theatre, nor dance; rather, it is a near-perfect balance of all three performative media. At a clean hour and five minutes, it is the sharpest endeavor this critic has seen from DGDG. Things juggles a lot – multiple performance media, movement techniques, and theatrical styles.
Unlike the group’s summer show, The Savage Seconds, which used location filming and leaned fully into the modality, Things Missing/Missed is staged theatrically. Enclosed in a wood-framed, plastic-sheeted structure, the action takes place in a singular local. As Colby Calhoun begins the action, I feel as though I am present in the space with them. But here’s the point of balance: while planting one foot in theatrical staging, Things is also filmed and edited. Film has the advantage of being constructed of shots that can direct the viewer’s eye and attention, and the photography and editing are on point. Film is a third person medium. The viewer looks in on the world. The liveness of theatre always implies the viewer – they are a participant and real-time witness. By mixing modalities, Things exploits the best of both performance modes. And make no mistake, the viewer is implicated.
The various performance media employed also vacillate in their style. The dancing moves from fluid and tender, with plosive spikes reminiscent of Martha Graham’s “Lamentation,” to highly comedic controlled floundering that would make Buster Keaton proud. And, oh, the shadow work! The scenography, cinematography, and wardrobe maintain a visual surrealism. The text, on the other hand, is straight out of the Theatre of the Absurd playbook, deploying repeated dialogue a la Samuel Beckett and Suzan-Lori Parks, abrupt shifts in tone, and seemingly non-sequitorial transitions. We are shuffled from longing and loss to whimsy and back again. Things is disquieting, tragically human, and downright hilarious, often within the same scene.
If this seems like “a lot,” it is; and that is the point. Characters – if they can be called such – pop in and out of existence. They connect and disconnect with one another. They are non-binary. They are deconstructed, reconstructed, augmented, then stripped down. Yes, they are searching for literal missing things –lost socks, “my gift,” Waldo (“Where’s Waldo?”). They are connected by equally mundane items – an old GM radio, a tube of red lipstick…Cheetos. But the mundane merely points to a much deeper search, and the “characters’” connection to one another is not what it may, at first, seem. In my experience of Things, the most important character is…the viewer.
The beauty of Things Missing/Missed is that, in its abstraction, the viewer is left to their own devices. If its meditations on isolation translates to a pandemic response for you, that is there; but the themes of Things is more universal. We are universally isolated within our own mind, our own thought processes (which are often as non-linear as the story’s progress). Sometimes we are torn between the desire for human connection and the desire to abandon slavish social convention, “say f--- it, and go live in the woods” when we find that in society there is too much information, “too much, too fast.” We are isolated in our own sense of self, of self-identity.
And when identity unravels…what is left? What is there? Do we go missing?
Virtual Undermain presents the streaming production of Things Missing/Missed by Justin Locklear, Melissa Flower, and Philip Hays. Things Missing/Missed is a co-production with the Danielle Georgiou Dance Group and is available for streaming through January 31, 2021.
For tickets, please visit www.undermain.com.