Sunday, September 27, 2015

Poetics of Space

Poetics of Space
presented by Z Space and Joe Goode Performance Group
Joe Goode Annex, San Francisco
September 26th, 2015

The last few times that I have been to a performance at the Joe Goode Annex, the place has been transformed. And, with Poetics of Space, Joe Goode’s newest full-length interdisciplinary composition, it has been transformed once again. This one was perhaps the most spellbinding conversion to date. With an intricate set of curtains, platforms and a catwalk (envisioned and created by collaborating scenic designer Sean Riley), the huge open room became a life-size dollhouse. In Poetics of Space, Joe Goode Performance Group revealed a meticulously devised collection of scenes, rooms and interactions, ranging from comforting to creepy.   

Poetics of Space was another example of the ‘mobile performance installation’ model, where the audience moves throughout the work. In this particular piece, that movement was partially guided. Sometimes the viewer was led from one space to another and sometimes they were left to make their own decisions, choosing what to watch or how long they might stay with any given vantage point. This seems to be the structure of the moment in contemporary performance art; very popular and very prevalent. That’s because if it is done well, it really works. And it worked here.

Goode began the piece from atop a metal scaffolding ladder - a preamble in which he contextualized the experience that would follow and introduced two narrative ideas. The height gave his speech an extra measure of authority. But Goode’s costume and makeup communicated something more. With tattered clothing, dark eyes and a ghostly white face, his character was definitely speaking to us from the beyond. Amidst this dark, foreboding and penetrating visual, first he challenged some general considerations about space – how do we inhabit space; what is space; what happens in various spaces. Then, Goode also explained that Poetics of Space would convey a tragic (and I’m assuming fictional) story of a young person named Logan. Both narrative themes drew you in. And though they were never at odds with each other, the through line connecting the two did prove elusive from time to time.

Pictured: Felipe Barrueto-Cabello and Marit Brook-Kothlow
Photo: RJ Muna
The entryway into the Annex was covered in leaves and vines; dancers (in futuristic costumes) emerging out of walls and doorways, like spirits. It was kind of A Midsummer Night’s Dream meets Studio 54. We then moved onto a text/choreographic duet that acquainted us with different parts of a single personality. A complex individual who was struggling for each part to be known and valued. We followed one of these characters into a tent vignette (we were inside a tent fort with her). Through an intuitive and intimate soliloquy, she questioned the self. How does one treat one’s self? How does the self reconcile appearance versus reality? We meet the other character, a boxer, in the next scene, a domestic living room. Through a boxing lesson and a gestural movement phrase, he tackled the notions of toughness, power and dominance. In these early sections, Poetics of Space established itself as a dance play – an interwoven story of tension and truth, combining movement, spoken word, vocals and ambience. It was about human existence, relationships and interactions, told through a literal and symbolic spatial framework. Making space for reactions; making space for sadness; making space for mistakes. A story of illumination.

As the curtains were drawn and the room opened up, the audience moved about more freely. Performers appeared on several levels/platforms and in different locations, reciting text. These recollections quickly morphed into a set of vignettes in the center of the main floor. Here we saw inner voices - some inviting, some soothing and some dramatic in a diva sort of a way. An ensemble choreographic sequence then emerged, full of release and suspension; balance and counterbalance; and movement that initiated from the xiphoid process.

One pitfall of any mobile performance is that the audience doesn’t really see the whole piece. Individual segments happen simultaneously in different locations, and you can’t watch them all at once. But in Poetics of Space, there was an awareness of ‘the other’, of what you couldn’t see. Goode and Riley smartly placed all of the action in a single large room. Yes, curtains sub-divided the space and there were specific designated regions. But you could hear the scenes that were outside your viewpoint. You could sense their significance and absorb their ambient contribution. And because of that, you didn’t walk away from Poetics of Space feeling like you had missed anything.

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