Sunday, July 11, 2010

Traveling Light - Joe Goode Performance Group

Old San Francisco Mint, San Francisco, CA
July 8, 2010

Joe Goode Performance Group's presentation of "Traveling Light" was a site specific tour through a theatrical wonderland.  The scenes of the piece unfolded in five different rooms of the Old San Francisco Mint building; each weaving together the dramatic fibers of several interdisciplinary elements.  Under the direction of Joe Goode, these ingredients became an artistic composite.  "Traveling Light" was big - sometimes in size, but always, in scope and vision.  The largess was compelling and fun, and within it (or occasionally buried beneath it) were four simple observations of humanity.

Want and Need
A melodramatic musing on luxury, extravagance and wealth met us first.  A female character was perched on one balcony, against an opulent, full purple ballgown.  From this place, she delivered her droll monologue on the plight of the rich.  Her elevation was literal; she was physically above us.  Though, it was also figurative.  Her text and the cadence of her voice signified an entitlement, a 'better-than' mentality.  This dancer then came down to our level (sans the dynamic gown, wig and jewelry) and as she addressed us face-to-face, it became apparent that the pull between want and need was her message.  The suspension and release in the closing choreography spoke to this dichotomy.  Suspension is all about holding on for dear life; our belief of where we should be.  A release is a giving in, a fall, a relief: a revelation of true abandon.

Hiding and Exposure
Next came the outdoor portion which opened with a solo by Felipe Barrueto-Cabello.  While portraying a poverty-stricken character, his movements toggled between closed and open.  In several instances, he folded his body and hid his face illustrating how personal struggle often turns into invisibility.  In addition, these enclosed movements were combined with an unencumbered, joyful display of the sternum and xiphoid process.  These areas of the body reveal the center in a very vulnerable way, exposing one's inner soul and its deep longing to be seen.  This section ended with Barrueto-Cabello carrying half a dozen or so cabbages and walking forward toward the audience.  He slowly progressed step by step, trying with all his conviction to keep a hold of every prop.  Many fell and rolled all over the stage - a realization of the utmost importance.  If you try to balance everything on your own, it almost always ends up in a mess.  

The dancers in the third room began by speaking about quiet, so I thought that perhaps the idea of stillness would be the insight here.  But, as this Act progressed,  stillness and quiet gradually fell into the background and the emphasis shifted to active noticing.  We followed the journey of two people who were initially unaware of each other through a process of transition and finally, into an organic duet where both parties were in the partnership.  They moved from a haphazard disconnect to a natural pas de deux.  So many gifts come from paying attention and simply being aware.

Appearances and Reality   
This final variation was all about facade.  We were introduced to a very tightly-wound female character, who spoke about expectations, manners and appropriateness while moving about the floor in a high-collared, hugely-bustled, mechanical white dress.  She spoke in an articulate, affected manner and paused in between her thoughts to pose like some sort of puppet or doll.  As she began to describe the romantic escapades of one youthful summer, she stepped out of her dress and began to dance with her suitor.  Here, the full inventory of a relationship was explored without pretense.  Through a contact improvisation styled duet, we saw it all: love, desire, anger, fighting, silence.  Nothing contrived; only truth. 

For the most part, the project's organizational challenges were no match for these talented artists.  Most of the performers had variations in different spaces during the same Act.  They entered and exited each room with confidence and determination, never once looking flustered or rushed.  And, at any given moment, wherever they needed to be, they were completely present - physically, emotionally and corporeally.  With such grounded commitment, it was hard to believe that just a minute prior, they had been dancing completely different choreography in a completely different place to completely different music with a completely different purpose. 

The division of "Traveling Light" into several spaces also brought unique logistical issues.  The audience was broken into four groups, each originating in a different place.  In order to see the entire work, the groups were escorted to and from the rooms, all four cycling in their own trajectory.  The ushers and front of house staff accomplished this difficult task with incredible efficiency; they were a well-oiled machine.  The pre-show was perhaps the only organizational obstacle that had not yet been conquered.  Prior to the main performance, the audience was encouraged to explore the downstairs vaults, where we could see the staging of humorous, topical vignettes.  There were just too many people in too small a space.   Attempts were made to route the crowd in different directions but everyone just ended up bottlenecked in the main corridor.  The company also performed a beautiful vocal overture that looked like it had some movement associated with it.  Unfortunately, if you were on the side of the room that I was, you saw nothing but their backs.  I think the pre-show is a great idea, but in order to really get a sense (or even a glimpse) of what is happening, the logistical strategy may need to be re-visited.           

A work of this magnitude requires a sizeable cast.  To that end, the company was supplemented with 'additional performers', acting as a chorus of sorts.  Too often, a chorus morphs into set dressing and their purpose becomes the provision of silent density onstage.  Not this group.  This was an assembly of unique and distinct bodies and personalities.  They were necessary for the messages being conveyed; well-integrated, very present and moving all the time.  Their individuality was refreshing, but there was too much variance in the level of these eight dancers.  Technical maturity was definitely at odds.  Some were absolutely up to the task of Goode's choreography, while others just weren't ready yet for work of this level.  And, being right next to each other made these technical differences even more obvious.  All the performers in "Traveling Light" were good dancers, just at different points in their training.    

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