Joe Goode Performance Group
Goode introduced himself to the audience, dressed in cowboy drag (which is really the only way to describe it in this context). It's cowboy by way of Porter Waggoner's closet. Lots of fringe, in other words (although not so many sequins). Goode immediately endeared himself to the Houston audience by pointing out that it was a costume and that he wasn't dressed up as he was simply because the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo are in full swing this week. He went on to say that they're performing in other cities across the U.S. where the costume is actually ironic. The audience warmed up to Goode's charm and his company would have had to screw up royally to lose it.
His company, of course, did not screw up royally. We were treated to a wonderfully inventive evening of dance theater. The first half of the evening was a revived piece from his history, Maverick Strain. This was inspired by the movie, The Misfits, and played with the American ideal of rugged individualism, machismo, John Wayne and Montgomery Clift. The company danced, they sang, they played out scenes that reversed gender roles. Joe Goode himself would swagger one moment in imitation of a Hollywood cowboy, then give us a swishy counterpoint to that image. What's most amazing is that he was able to do it, get laughs, and it never felt forced or cheesy or played only for laughs. As he said in the after-show talk, it was about being male in America---and all the ways a male is in America. It's agenda was laid out in a very friendly way, not pushed, not a strident voice, just politely presented with humor and grace.
Wonderboy, the second half of the evening, was a bit different. Using a puppet as the main character---a quiet, sensitive boy who watches the world from his window, but is afraid to go outside and engage the world---we're given a story of self-discovery that again uses humor to tell the tale, but doesn't shout. Goode may talk about the difficulties of growing up gay in Virginia in the 1950s, but his work suggests that he isn't angry or bitter about it, only that he wants people to see what that experience was like. This is very appealing to me. As a gay writer and sometimes performer, I know it can be hard to present the work without being defensive or antagonistic to a straight audience. It's a joy to see someone modeling a way to do it, to create work that makes seeing the difficulty easy, that doesn't place blame for the difficulty or rails against the oppressor. Goode has found a way to present the difficulty that makes it possible for others to identify with it, even if it isn't the viewer's personal difficulty. Wonderboy is, in the end, about wanting to belong, and pretty much everyone who has survived being a teenager identifies with that.
Even going in with some knowledge of what Wondergoy was about, even after talking with Joe Goode about it for the interview, I was surprised by my own emotional response to the climax of the piece. I knew it was about a boy discovering that his gift and, indeed, his power lay in his being sensitive. Still, when the puppet proclaims, "I'm sensitive!" I had this internal response of wanting to shout, "Yeah! That's right! You're sensitive!" It's a funny moment, yes, there's something kind of funny about this sweet little puppet proclaiming his power with the very thing that had made him afraid to go outside, but it also touched something in me that I wasn't expecting. It's nothing new, really. Mystics and poets have been saying this for centuries. Our weakness is our strength. My own religion proclaims the weakness of a state execution is the power of our proclamation. Humility, the Desert Fathers and Mothers told us, is the one thing that the devil can't match and so is our greatest strength. So it wasn't a new idea, that senstitivity, a "weakness," could be powerful. Goode just built up to it in such a way that swept me into a catharsis of sorts. And that is, the ancient Greeks would have told us, the point of theater.
I should talk about one aspect of the evening that I was most interested in. Goode is known for making his dancers sing and speak. His shows apparently rely heavily on text to create the story he's telling. This is an interest of mine, one that drew me to Toni Leago Valle (see a couple of posts ago) and when I was making performance myself, a thing I tried to explore. I often feel like dancers use text to explain the dance or else use dance to illustrate the text---neither of which is particularly wrong, but not what interests me. In my work, I would try to layer text and movement so that each element offered more information, that there would be information left out if one element was absent. Whether or not I succeeded with those attempts, I wouldn't dare say. But I wanted to see how Goode used text, how he integrated the two.
Here, tonight, fresh from his show, I would say Joe Goode is a storyteller, and he uses many elements to tell the story. There are moments of dialog/monolog that do that, and ther are moments of "pure dance" that propel the story forward. There are times the two overlap, but I'm not sure I would say they are completely integrated in the same way I was attempting, but neither are they simply illustrative/explicative. From my point of view, he uses all elements with ease and the result is a seamless story. It is a layering in that all these disciplines do add a different dimension the the overall work. It is skillfully done and I cannot fault it one bit.
But I'm still searching for some thing I can't quite describe, haven't really managed myself, and may be an unattainable idea---this notion that text and movement might be integrated so that one requires the other to create a third thing. I'm high on what I saw tonight and I want to stress that what I saw was wonderful, skillful, full of creativity. And I'm looking for someone to do something . . . else with text and movement. But that's my notion, and is no fault on the part of Goode for what he offered his audience tonight.
Oh, and for heaven's sake, the other thing I wanted to mention is his choreography for duets. I'm a sucker for inventive partnering, and there was some very exciting and breathtaking partnering in tonight's work. There was even one point that I literally thought, "that defies the laws of science! How are they doing that?" Someone in the after-show discussion noted it, too, so it wasn't just me.
But that's enough gushing. This was one wonderful evening of performance. I have a new favorite dance company, another troupe to keep my eyes open for. If you run across this and the Joe Goode Peformance Group is coming to your city, I highly recommend arranging your life around it.