Curated by Joe Goode
Featuring Ledoh, AXIS Dance Company and Joe Goode Performance Group
Brava Theater, San Francisco, CA
January 14, 2011
Brava Theater invites patrons to an eclectic modern dance experience with "Gush", their current three-week long performance series curated by choreographer Joe Goode. The festival, set in the heart of San Francisco's Mission District, brings together Goode's own company, Joe Goode Performance Group, with Ledoh and Axis Dance Company. Goode's opening remarks revealed that all of the "Gush" groups share a common denominator, each dealing with frank emotion but in very unique and telling ways. Each weekend features a new line-up of artists and works, with the most recent program being "29 Effeminate Gestures" (Joe Goode Performance Group) and "ColorMeAmerica" (Ledoh).
Even though Goode's "29 Effeminate Gestures" is a historic dance theater masterpiece, it was brand new to me. And now I can say that it is one of the most affecting pieces I have ever seen. Danced by Melecio Estrella, "29 Effeminate Gestures" began with a pseudo-rap/vocalization of the phrase, "he's a good guy" as Estrella emerged from the audience. At first, it seemed that the words were referring to someone else, but as the tempo accelerated and the words became more desperate, it was clear that he was talking about himself and trying to convince himself of his worth. Once on the stage, Estrella introduced the set of effeminate gestures, traveling from upstage left to downstage right, with no transition between each pose. At this point in the work, the positions were being presented in isolation, as if the primary and only characteristic of this man. Then the mood changed drastically, and Estrella embarked on a fluid stream of movement where the gestures become part of a larger physical vocabulary. They were still there; still present; and still real, though now expressed as an integrated part of the whole being. Goode used this beautiful section to unpack these gestures, revealing what they mean from an internal and personal perspective as opposed to what they say outwardly. Here, there was celebration combined with realization and ownership, which brought a plethora of emotional elements, including fear, honesty and relief.
Salt Farm Productions' "ColorMeAmerica" sought to examine many significant issues, with the program notes citing security, survival, power, and freedom, among others. Ledoh (Salt Farm's Artistic Director) explored this vast narrative goal through a contemporary take on Butoh performance, and the addition of multi-media. The opening video images were a range of different animals, birds and insects and dancer Iu-Hui Chua truly embodied each of those beings, taking on the clawed hands of the birds, the excited gaze of a puppy and the constant motion of a bee. These first movement interpretations were real, accurate and mesmerizing, but unfortunately the rest of the piece did not live up to this early promise. The grotesqueness of Butoh, with its angular, staccato, accented physicality and overly dramatic facial expressions seems like a good method to effectively fulfill and transmit the narrative. But strangely, the abrupt and deformed movement style didn't actually depict violence, fear or any other of the conceptual elements. The choreography was trying to reflect those themes yet was unable to move beyond imitation to the true communication of content. Even though I didn't feel the connection between what the dancers were doing and what they were trying to say, I do see the value of "ColorMeAmerica". It might not have been for me, but based on the audience reaction, there were definitely people there to whom the work spoke deeply.