Joe Goode Performance Group

Shut Up and Dance: "Mythic, Montana," "Gender Heroes," "Deeply There," "Transparent Body"

Cowell Theatre, Fort Mason, San Francisco, CA

January 29, 2002
By Mary Ellen Hunt

Saturday's performance of the Joe Goode Performance Group's program, Shut Up and Dance, offered an evening of eclectic works, old and new, some still rough at the edges, and others carefully finished, but all of them thought-provoking and engaging. Goode set the stage before anyone entered the door with the subtitle query: "Can Language and Movement Coexist?", which was a little disingenuous, since most of us in the audience knew that we were going to see them coexist. Nevertheless, there would be many more questions posed before the end of the evening: all of them good ones, few of them answered.

The performance began with the company in the lobby of the Cowell Theater at Fort Mason: there was a faintly mournful song (Crack This Open) and a preening, self-aware monologue from a young sailor at a giddy and frightening height above the audience. As a way of transitioning from the quotidian into the fantastical, this type of lead-in can be productive. It alerts you that you will not be attending a garden-variety show here and was a promising beginning (although what it had to do with the complex relationship between language and movement, I'm not sure). Unfortunately the twenty-minute process of loading the audience into their seats undercut the effectiveness. Nevertheless, experiment and the spirit of adventure were the agenda for the evening, and it was an entrance worth trying.

Like ODC's Unplugged shows, the Side Effects series, as Goode notes in the program, is designed to be the testing ground for new material: to show work that would normally only find itself in theatres after long rehearsal. Commendably, Goode likes to take risks and offer up works-in-progress that may or may not look anything like the finished product. But he's savvy enough to also present a few of his older and most effective pieces to sweeten the pot a little.

From the moment the lights went down in the house, Goode took us through the company's process of development in an articulate, sometimes pedagogical fashion and discussed the internal motivations that other choreographers often leave the audience to guess at. Even as he explicated his philosophy, though, he couldn't resist a bit of choreographed showmanship: his introduction to entire show overlapped a brief rumination on the difficulty of balancing the use of a spoken text and dance, with the visual of his dancers carefully inserting themselves into his space with interruptive choreography and text of their own. One couldn't help but wonder if he was trying to demonstrate how text can be overshadowed by movement. While the dancers swooped about the stage in angular patterns, he, as the mouthpiece, remained meekly huddled in the center almost apologetically retrieving sheets of paper that he allowed to flutter into the dancers' space. And when dance and language occupy a stage concurrently, it can cause more confusion than elucidation. Indeed at one point it became a mental puzzle to try to listen to the words as they were juxtaposed against compelling movement. Then Goode fell silent and the choreography continued as if it were picking up his train of thought. The dancers exited, Goode continued his unobtrusive shuffle and then stood up to leave with "And that's all I have to say about that."

It was a better opening than the snippets in the lobby, and set the tone for the question he proposed. This introduction was its own short essay that could have been an individual work called Shut Up and Dance.

Goode informed us that the first piece, Mythic, Montana, is about destiny and the desire to shape destiny, with some nods to the Greek mythic tradition. We see the character of Psyche being "built" before us, metaphorically and literally, with Goode as our "chorus" and guide. The monologues which become a dialogue between Psyche and Goode are hilarious, but although the character has been clearly thought through, it still has yet to develop the relationship between movement and character that is the hallmark of other works. The internal workings revealed through language make it a promising start, but one longs for the final integration with the subtext provided by dance.

The Boys excerpt from Gender Heroes followed, featuring Marc Morozumi and Felipe Barrueto-Cabello. More overtly choreographic, this narrative piece tells of the escape of two young men from a juvenile detention center. The intricate partnering and effortless moving in and out of phrases left no doubt that these are accomplished dancers. Barrueto-Cabello's lines and lunging thrusts into space had a full and weighty look that perfectly complemented Morozumi's energetic monologue.

Scenes from Deeply There, one of Goode's most affecting and powerful works, were next on the program. Rooted in the grief-stricken circumstances caused by the AIDS crisis, this piece interweaves among seven characters who make up the "alternative" family of Ben, the unseen protagonist who is dying of AIDS, and Frank, his lover, played by Goode. In the excerpts we got only the thumbnail characterizations of Barrueto-Cabello as Ben's son, Jennifer Wright Cook, as their lesbian friend, and Vong Phrommala, as the transvestite Imelda, but Morozumi, playing the fastidiously well-meaning friend Terri, the ever-intriguing Liz Burritt as Ben's sister and Marit Brook-Kothlow as the family dog struck just the right notes. Deeply There is obviously the most finely tuned of the four works presented that evening, and the most poignant. The company members have been performing these characters for so long now that they inhabit them with ease, having found the balance between edginess and silliness, and how best to bring the viewer across the border of the proscenium. Then too, the interplay and reconfiguring of movement phrases and language phrases was seamless and natural. The scenes from Deeply There also make it apparent how necessary these mid-season "showings" of work are. One can work with material for months in a studio, but it is a completely different game when played before an audience.

The evening closed with Transparent Body, a cabaret-style theatrical piece about truth and the body, which seems apropos as a subject of discourse for dancers. By this time, Goode as the kindly professor had disappeared to be replaced by Goode, the performer: as a beer-swilling alter-ego, a pop-rock star, a reluctant truck driver, a camp version of the Alpine heroine Heidi and so on. More episodic than some of his longer works, Transparent Body is still very much character-driven, and evokes pop imagery from Madonna to Suzanne Vega to Edith Piaf. Although it didn't really address the language/movement question, it did open an engaging investigation of "what is truth?"

As always after a JGPG show, I left the theatre tantalized with the question: how can they be so intensely eloquent with almost no visible effort? How do they get at the core of complex relationships with only a minimum of dialogue and imaginative use of everyday as well as virtuousic movement? In Deeply There, the performers seem to show only the barest essentials of the story, but even so, one can't help feeling that there must be secret, magical mechanisms hidden somewhere, because this sort of musical dance-dramedy has been done countless times before and too often seemed merely pretentious. Despite, or perhaps because of, all the insouciant theatricality, the drawling, modulated speeches and superlative dancing, JGPG manages to mostly disarm the preciousness and get back to reality. The world we see on this stage, Goode explicitly reminds us, is a hyper-reality, but like a good simulacrum, it ends up being more real than the real thing. As Goode remarks in Transparent Body, "The banal truth is never as touching as we would like it to be." Still no answers.


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Edited by Marie.

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