Joe Goode Performance Group
30th Anniversary Season
Yerba Buena Center for the Arts Theater, San Francisco
June 23rd, 2017
Before heading to Yerba Buena Center for the Arts Theater to catch Joe Goode Performance Group’s thirtieth anniversary program, I decided to look up the gifts that have historically marked three decades. My search yielded two primary results – pearl (traditional) and diamond (modern). So then, I started to list some common descriptors for these two stones. Pearl brought to mind things like rare, smooth and timeless, whereas diamond conjured strength, sparkle and faceted. And with diamonds, there was also the additional characteristic, as an oft symbol of long-term commitment – certainly apt considering that the evening commemorated thirty years of Artistic Director Joe Goode’s creative innovation and boundary-pushing art. All of these properties and qualities were present in Friday night’s winsome bill, the first half comprised of excerpts from four past works (2004’s Grace, 2011’s Rambler, 2009’s Wonderboy and 1991’s Remembering the Pool at the Best Western) followed by the company’s newest endeavor, Nobody Lives Here Now.
When I think of the term rare, the synonyms distinct and unique also immediately pop up, and each offering on the program lived into those words. From the intense physicality of Grace to the vocally driven Rambler to the puppetry and storytelling in Wonderboy to the realm straddling, emotionally charged Remembering the Pool at the Best Western to the dance theater opus Nobody Lives Here Now, each piece distinguished itself as rare and exceptional. The transitions between the first four excerpts were the epitome of smooth – one morphed into the next with care and attention, never an abrupt halt or jarring shift. And in terms of being timeless, all five performance works on the program revealed ‘timeless narratives’, themes that transcend a specific point in time, and so, can always speak to audiences. Relatable human experiences like being pulled in different directions, feeling isolated, loss, grief and personal identity. A pearl of a program indeed.
Strength read throughout each chapter of the night, though two examples in particular stood out. Marit Brook-Kothlow, Andrew Ward and Felipe Barrueto-Cabello’s opening trio from Grace was one such moment. An incredibly technical excerpt with shape-based, clearly defined movement, Grace was forceful and powerful. The partnering between the three dancers was dynamically acrobatic, and at one point, in a cantilevered balance, Brook-Kothlow seemed to effortlessly swim above Ward and Barrueto-Cabello. In Wonderboy, the men’s choreographic section provided a different take on strength. Again, Goode’s phrase material was specific and vibrant, yet in each connection between the four men (Barrueto-Cabello, Melecio Estrella, James Graham and Ward), a nurture and openness was so present and palpable. Here was strength shown through vulnerability and trust. Sparkle definitely made its appearance in the program too, specifically in the make-up and costume design for Nobody Lives Here Now.
Last, moving onto faceted…or perhaps multi-faceted is the better term. In Rambler, linguistics, gender stereotypes and social norms converge, through movement and text and within a decidedly humorous Western/cowboy container. And the text was treated (at least in this excerpt) in two different ways, through Patricia West’s spoken soliloquy and through Goode’s song, both cloaked in extremes and alluding to the connective narrative tissue. Remembering the Pool at the Best Western brought characterization and choreography to the table (figuratively and literally as Goode is seated at a kitchen table for the majority of the excerpt) as well as a meeting of gesture and language. All of these facets work together to help share a somber narrative, one that is a curiosity about death, and is seeking a connection with those who have passed into another realm of being.
|Felipe Barrueto-Cabello, Andrew Ward & Marit Brook-Kothlow in|
Nobody Lives Here Now
Photo RJ Muna
And now onto the most multi-faceted work on the program, Nobody Lives Here Now. This dance theater piece had about every theatrical device that one could imagine – videography, text script, props, costume, make-up, lighting design, gesture, mirroring, sets, characters, scenework, purposeful absurdity, humor as well as compositional repetition and exaggeration. Live music, performed by the Thalea String Quartet, scores the entire work and in addition to all of these elements, Nobody Lives Here Now has profound and vital messages - gender fluidity, the prevalence of labels, living fully into the self, and at the end, aging – all explored through narrative abstraction. Nobody Lives Here Now invites its audience into a magical sphere, using the world of illusion, spectacle and grandeur as an artistic allegory for metamorphosis and change. It’s entertaining, engaging (a most enthusiastic standing ovation greeted the cast at its conclusion) and very layered. But like a layer cake, the more layers you add, the chance that the cake might lean increases, and that’s what happened a little here. There was so much going on onstage that the deep, weighty and important narrative fibers got lost a bit, at least for me.