writers on dancing

Ordinary Heroes

Joe Goode
Yerba Buena Center for the Arts
June19-29, 2003

reviewed by Rita Felciano

Going to Joe Goode's episodic dance theater pieces is almost as frustrating as it is exhilarating. Goode makes you look at characters to whom in real life you wouldn't give a second glance. They can't get their act together. They aim low and mostly fail even at that. They are everything people run away from home for. Furthermore, Goode's pieces ramble; the dance steps are common place; the texts full of platitudes. He even treads, however gently, into the taboo of sentimentality.

And yet Goode's work is inspired. It goes for the jugular and speaks in a voice that is unlike any one else's. His vision is anti-heroic with a vengeance, yet it explicitly celebrates human dignity. Walking a tight rope between aphoristic and soap opera pronouncements, Goode is still one of the Bay Area's most entertaining, perceptive and original artist thinkers.

Goode revels in the banal because life is banal. People are not heroic, they are ordinary. The big questions about life and death, love and relationships are simple. The answers may be complicated but the questions are not. Sometimes Goode's work looks like a master navigator's exploration of terrain infinitely strange and yet absolutely familiar.

At the end of the 2002 Transparent Body, which Goode showed during his most recent San Francisco season, with the world premiere of Folk, the narrator gave the audience two pieces of advice. Try to be innocent, he told them, or at the very least "try to have a happy end". While wittily puncturing the Hollywood cliché, Goode was also serious, spelling out a key theme that weaves itself through all his work: Death is the companion of life.

Transparent Body is a kind of cabaret act with various characters stepping into the spotlight. It looked like the piece might have grown out of a solo to which Goode added additional characters. His double roles as a brutish, truck-driving father and the sensitive son who slowly comes to terms with this relationship were most convincingly worked out. The subsidiary characters the girl who loses the boy next door to another boy, the giggling pre-teens, the young man who doesn't believe in romance, the slow-dancing couple could be seen as different stages in the young man's growing up process. But they should have been more than merely sketched. In the climactic scene, Goode as the son grabbed a truck's steering wheel to drive his dead lover's belongings across country and, feeling both his lover's and his father's presence, he was able to forgive the man who had put such a terrible burden hatred and abuse on him. It was a moment almost sacred but also quite close to being sentimental.

Performed in front of a downstage microphone and a semi-transparent curtain that suggested a road show, Transparent Body was so text-heavy-though excellently delivered by Goode's dancer/actors-that much of the movement passages looked thin in comparison. The exception was one emotionally complex tussling duet between Felipe Barrueto-Cabello and Benjamin Levy.

Folk, the second part two of a trilogy Goode is working one, balances text and dance more successfully. The first part, Mythic Montana, which premiered last year, was set in an Olympic environment with the gods exhibiting more than a few human foibles. Folk more closely resembles "Northern Exposure". Its decidedly odd characters included a displaced urbanite (Goode) as an artist refugee from Los Angeles who is working on his "high desert breakdown". Marit Brook-Kothlow was a radio DJ who has "spent a lot of time being disappointed." Elizabeth Burritt's raspy small-town waitress dispensed common sense wisdom; one of her customers, (Benjamin Levy) was the tough "don't mess with me" Henry, the town's drunkard. Snake, (Marc Morozumi), the outcast, who never sleeps indoors and spends his days making impressions of dead people's faces, was the strangest of them all. Savage and intuitive, he functioned as the counter part to Goode's overly analytical self-seeker. Not an original dramatic concept maybe, but Goode brilliantly particularized the perspectives of these two survivalists.

Folk's choreography was simple but varied enough. Lifts, thrusts and partnerings came in unisons, canons, lines and other social dance configurations. A courting duet for Brook-Kothlow and Barrueto-Cabello was particularly affective with Brook-Kothlow, reluctant to be wooed. At one moment she draped her body over his or hung from his shoulders, the next she recoiled from his touch and fiercely shooed him away. A partner-changing circle dance turned in the semi-darkness as Brook-Kothlow lamented her many unsuccessful relationships.

Mazumi's spine as a recoiling, slithering and winding Snake got a full work out, and he was powerful as the vampire who both raped and made love to the corpse from which he "stole" its face. Early on Goode displayed a leafy branch as a divining rod-his character believes in the power of green-to find a path through the darkness. Behind him the ensemble imitated but also elaborated on his movements, doing their own exploring by sticking their index finger to the wind. (At end of Folk, a wind mill starts to turn when Snake left the desert for a life "in business"). The choreography, unlike the text, wouldn't be able to stand on its own. But in Goode's hands it effectively amplified and added weight to specific emotional contexts.

The dancers sang and chanted their own material; Beth Custer, Erik Walker and Mark Growden also contributed music. A sextet which celebrated community featured a particularly lovely score with Custer on her clarinet. Jack Carpenter designed the evocative lighting.

Photo: l- r: Vong Phrommala and Jennifer Cook perform in Joe Goode's Folk. Photo by R.J.Muna.

copyright Rita Felciano 2003





what did you think?
Share views about performances, post announcements of upcoming events and news, on our forum.
keep in touch

To make sure your events are listed on our Calendar, send info to Calendar.

Please email photos in jpg format to photos.

You can reach the editor or any of our writers by emailing feedback.

Want to subscribe to our FREE weekly update? Send us your email address to update.

(c) 2003 by danceviewwest
page last updated: July 19, 2003