Yerba Buena Center for the Arts
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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