Grief is vicious in DGDG's theatrical film THE SAVAGE SECONDS
Updated: Jun 10, 2020
by Cristee Cook
THE SAVAGE SECONDS, a theatrical film from Danielle Georgiou Dance Group (DGDG), centers on the story of BABY. When her boarding school closes due to a great plague, she returns to her home, Kalorama, where her adolescence is fractured by cruel siblings, grief, and sexual confusion. On the island of Kalorama, relationships are savage, but so is death. Grief is splintering, and from it, ugliness emerges, tired of waiting for its turn to take the wheel.
Directed and Choreographed by Danielle Georgiou, the film uses episodic, broad strokes to tell the story. Don’t mistake this to mean that the story is simple. It centers around life-altering changes: grief, pandemic, isolation, and maturation; and how we respond to those changes, both collectively and individually.
Inspired partly by Greek tragedy (namely Oedipus and Medea), Screenwriter Justin Locklear has created a brilliant, contemporary Greek remix. The ancient Greeks laid the foundation for contemporary drama by showing us how to express larger than life emotion with poetry and song, an episodic play structure, and the use of a chorus as social and moral commentary. In THE SAVAGE SECONDS, the chorus is prescient: costumed in disposable masks and utility coveralls, they act as housekeepers, personal assistants, and hyper aware harbingers of the chasm the mother’s death has left in the family. It’s a penetrating ensemble played by William Acker, Kelli Howard, Christopher Lew, Sarah Mendez, Omar Padilla, Danielle Georgiou, and Alondra Puentes. I found their poetic stanzas and abstract dances haunting.
Greek tragedy also posed a contemplation about how human beings could (or if they should even try to) overcome their fate. But in my two viewings of the film, I felt the theme of man versus the Gods in THE SAVAGE SECONDS as (wo)man versus grief, psychological violence, and misplaced desire. BABY, played by Elaina Alspach is legitimately innocent…until she isn’t. Is she the result of her environment or was the transition between innocence and blooming always fated to unfold this way? I found her character arc to be a glaring commentary on how adolescent girls are preyed upon in our society: how quickly we take a precious bundle of potential and fuck it up with savage expectations about what it means to be powerful. As BABY, Alspach teetered the fragile balance of tenderness, adolescent awkwardness, and self-actualization with sophistication. I rooted for BABY and then I cried for her.
THE SAVAGE SECONDS feels eerily urgent in the face of our ongoing global pandemic. The family dysfunction comes to a head with the emotional mashup of grief and isolation. MIDDLE CHILD, played by Colby Calhoun, and ELDEST CHILD, played by Nick Leos, are biting as the cruel sibling frenemies. Calhoun is particularly funny, especially in the moments when MIDDLE CHILD admits to their own flaws or recognizes the madness of everything. Leos as ELDEST CHILD is tragic; his power illusory and based, ultimately, on external approval. They’re a dangerous pair. As STEP-MOTHER, Monet Lerner is a flawed oracle. She offers spiritual platitudes and omniscient observations but seems detached, almost lobotomized to the destructive habits of FATHER, which Jovane Caamaño delivers with frustrating accuracy. Each family member contributes to BABY’s blooming in their own shocking way, and the ensemble is wicked, delicious, and heartbreaking.
The film stands out in its design. Production resources were limited due to COVID-19 restrictions. But Production Designer/Art Director Lori Honeycutt transcended those limitations with a lush and vibrant color palette, and the verdant outdoor locations which felt like an isolated Grecian island. The more surreal scenes in the film (ice cream, anyone?) give the audience a glimpse of both the inner life of BABY, and the savage world in which she’s forced to acclimate. This narrative is also amplified by Locklear's Sound Design (with contributions from long time DGDG collaborator Black Taffy) with the use of underscoring, musical irony, and environmental soundscapes that create a disquieting suspense.
THE SAVAGE SECONDS is a wild ride, and the 1 hour and 5-minute running time creates its own pressure cooker for the narrative. Food for the thoughtful, it boldly reveals the inherent darkness in how we mold young women, what it means to be powerful, and how we process grief. I thought about my own life in the middle of a great plague, my own adolescence, and how I view power. The catharsis was devastating and illuminating, and I felt changed by having witnessed it.
THE SAVAGE SECONDS is now streaming online. One ticket purchase includes unlimited viewing. Ticket sales have been extended through Friday, June 12 at 11:59 pm, with streaming available through Sunday, June 14 at 11:50 pm.
Purchase tickets here: https://undermain.secure.force.com/ticket
For an immersive experience into the world of THE SAVAGE SECONDS, visit the interactive map at https://www.thesavageseconds.com.