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Joe Goode Review

Joe Goode: Signature or Formulaic?

Sunday, May 3, 2009 at 12:43am

Joe Goode Performance Group danced at the Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center on May 1-2, 2009 and presented excerpts from his 1996 piece Maverick and the area premiere of Wonderboy. Based in San Francisco, Goode has been exploring and showcasing movement theater works that incorporate theater, dance, spoken word and music for several decades. Along with this unique combination, Goode has been trying to make his audiences look at gender and sexuality through a new lens. The puppet featured in the performance was created by Basil Twist who came on as a collaborator for Wonderboy. Goode and Twist are well known in the LGBT community of artists for their interdisciplinary projects and Goode is especially known for his use of raw sexuality and physicality on stage.

In the two pieces performed at the Center, we see Goode’s signature strengths and some structural flaws. Goode is a masterful story teller and has a strong narrative thread in all of his performances. The movement is full of lush partnering, with dancers finding ways to support and lift each other in the most unusual and beautiful ways. And the sheer movement is like watching poetry unfold on stage. In addition, the dancers use their voices throughout the evening in captivating and poignant musical performances and soliloquies. Kudos to Goode for actually training and coaching his dancers to use their voice as an instrument and not simply as an afterthought. Goode’s voice is melodious and he knows how to hold a tune, but he looks misplaced next to his trim, young group of dancers. Perhaps someone should say “When” to Goode soon and prevent the tragedy of yet another Sunset Boulevard re-enactment on stage.

In Maverick, Goode toys with the idea of the overly macho stereotype of the cowboys and western movies to comic effect. In one clever scene, the women flirt with the men with cliched phrases and posturing immediately followed by the men doing the exact same gesturings to skewer the male/female polarity. Then there is the John Wayne/Montgomery Clift doing John Wayne sequence where he pokes fun at our obsession with the big rugged men. Goode often toys with sexuality and gender on stage and is one of the few choreographers who deals with these topics in such a direct and central manner. He introduces the show with a song and serves as the vocal thread that holds the various jumbled sections together. The excerpts don’t quite hold together, but perhaps the full work was more cohesive.

Following Maverick, we get an updated take on the Pinocchio tale–a Pinocchio who has a strong crush on another man. Basil Twist’s puppet is charmingly boyish, complete with a very cleverly designed window frame of the house in which he lives with curtains and all. The dancers use him as the narrator to tell the story of his strife ridden childhood and his ultimate realization that even he can have the man of his dreams. Except for one well-choreographed movement section, the puppet ends up being a gimmicky prop who utters hallmarky gibberish such as “I would frame the world and wrap it in delicate tissue paper” (or something to that effect), and “I can feel and touch” etc. The puppet’s parents engage in a made-for-TV argumentative duet. There is a painful cheer leading group which uses every anti-gay epithet possible, and do it with a gleeful gusto, and a cheer leader in drag who gets pseudo-date-raped. Between all of these sections, there is beautiful partnering work and abstract sections of dance that are stunning to watch—but they often seem irrelevant to the narrative thrust of the piece.

Through it all the puppet keeps his faith and becomes Wonderboy, meeting the man of his dreams and realizing he can do what he wants (he even gets to hump his dreamboy’s leg). Fabric drops down from the ceiling framing the whole stage in a mirror image of the window from which Wonderboy watched the world go by. Get it? The whole world is a window seat endeavor–or someone wanted to use the fabric really badly. And to show that the dancers are breaking the fourth wall, they even waft Wonderboy off the stage into the audience. The heavy handed use of the fabric, and superficial attempt to break the fourth wall make the work pedantic. And the work slowly sinks under its own weight. The evening shifts from signature to formulaic and you leave with a sense of being manipulated. The strength and commitment of the dancers saves the day, but their grace only masks the flimsiness of the work.

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