Saturday, October 04, 2014

Joe Goode Performance Group

Z Space, San Francisco
October 3rd, 2014

When describing dance performance, I tend to use the verbs ‘reviving’ and ‘restaging’ interchangeably. But actually there is a huge difference between the two. Classical and contemporary companies restage work all the time – there may be a new cast, or it may be in a new space, though for the most part, these are restatements of existing repertoire. Revivals take things a step further. Yes, they may also have a different cast and be on a different stage, but revivals breathe new life into a work. Joe Goode Performance Group’s fall program (presented with Z Space) is a shared program of revivals – two distinct works that are still on an artistic journey.

The evening opened with Goode’s iconic piece from 1987, “29 Effeminate Gestures”, performed by Melecio Estrella. The work begins in striking extremes. Estrella starts in the audience wearing mechanic overalls and a trucker hat. He slowly makes his way onto the stage space where he destroys a chair with a chainsaw. Estrella then moves upstage left,
Pictured: Melecio Estrella in "29 Effeminate Gestures"
Photo: RJ Muna
converts the top of his jumpsuit into a belt, and in his newly revealed shimmery purple tube top, begins the circuit of “29 Effeminate Gestures”. While these initial scenes seem opposed, the genius of the work is in their fluidity. As the solo continues, the original set of gestures remains but they are also simultaneously morphed into another state of being. This process is seamless and continuous with no defined moment of transition. It happens right before your eyes yet it is impossible to pinpoint the instants where the experience changes.

An ensemble work, 2008’s “Wonderboy” is a vision of what the present day and future can be, a comment on the space between reality and imagination and a discussion of fear. Under Goode’s Artistic Direction, each of these themes are explored and examined through the eyes of a boy, a puppet created and constructed for this project by collaborating Director of Puppetry, Basil Twist. The concept is cool; the communication is clear and the construction is clever, and it is in this last area that the piece makes one of its most significant achievements. “Wonderboy” is definitely a narrative tour-de-force, though its structure, form and style speak to the evolving nature of dance theater itself. Goode’s dance theater thinks outside the box with a unique combination of movement, scenework, text, music, humor and depth. And in “Wonderboy”, the absurdity and bizarreness that is typical of many dance theater works is not at play and it is not missed. Successful dance theater should not be defined by a list of characteristics and tenets, but by the trajectory of each individual work and Goode’s “Wonderboy” bravely marks its own path. On the whole, the piece was very dance-y, and that was terrific – Goode’s movement vocabulary and choreography is compelling and the dancers are phenomenal. But, the many choreographic segments were very alike. This entire group also has an incredible (and rare) musical talent, which rightly finds its way into much of the company’s work, including “Wonderboy”. But the musical interjections are starting to blend together. From one piece to the next, it’s the same harmonies, the same vocal tone, the same dynamics, the same tempi, and so how the music relates to each specific piece is getting a little lost.

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