You’ve probably never seen anything quite like the Joe Goode Performance Group – unless of course you were at the sold out, one-night-only performance on Nov. 7 in Campbell Hall.
Indeed, “performance group” is the only phrase that truly summarizes what the company does. While dancing is the main focus, company members also act, sing and recite spoken-word. Movements are altered to fit with whatever audio mode is being used, whether it’s classical music or a monologue (or both). For example, a performer will choreograph a movement for every syllable of spoken word.
As the name implies, Joe Goode is the mastermind behind the operation, choreographing (and usually participating in) each piece. However, he doesn’t do it alone, allowing each of the other six performers to add their own personal style into each piece.
“I like working with co-creators, not interpreters,” Goode said. “That just doesn’t interest me.”
Company member Jennifer Wright Cook said that combining all the different elements into a polished product is what Goode does best.
“Focusing us and editing the material is really his expertise,” she said. “Working with him allows us to get some of that skill, too.”
So how exactly does one combine singing, acting, dancing and spoken-word into a performance worth watching?
“There’s a lot of simultaneous material being created,” he said. “They can go together on stage because they were formed in the same room.”
“When you put the pieces together, a third, more exciting, piece emerges,” Goode said. “I have a strong belief in the chance process.”
In many ways, Goode’s artistic career could be summed up as a series of taking chances. Leaving New York may have been the biggest chance of all.
“There was all this pressure to be the best; constant competition,” he said. “It wore me out. I didn’t want to wear hot-pants and shimmy for the rest of my life. I wanted to do something that would have an effect on the world.” So he left.
“I moved to San Francisco and was embraced immediately. I didn’t have to be so restrained,” Goode said.
The move turned out to be the right thing. In 1986, Goode started his own company. Fourteen years and numerous awards later, it’s safe to say it was worth the risk.
Despite the fact that company members come from places as remote as Laos, the San Francisco culture was very apparent in Goode’s work. Perhaps the most obvious example of this was during “What the Body Knows,” which portrayed a gay relationship.
“San Francisco used to be a major alternative lifestyle center,” Goode said. “It’s less so now, which is sad.”
Having a sense of place is so important to Goode that he even titled a piece “Take/Place”. Even still, it’s humor that keeps Goode centered.
“Humor is terribly important to me in my life,” he said. “The world is so full of suffering that it’s important to embrace levity. My dearest friends make me laugh so hard I cry and pee my pants.”
And the humor definitely comes across in the performances. The funniest, and best, piece featured Goode and the talented Liz Burritt as Rock Hudson and Doris Day, respectively. During “Doris in a Dustbowl,” the two interact in perfect rhythm, talking and dancing while throwing dust at each other. The synchronization is a result of 13 years of evolution, as the piece was originally choreographed in 1989.
“When Liz first joined the company she was very young and she had this sweet Doris Day quality about her,” he said. “I thought, I can exploit that.” He did, and it worked.
“Doris” is just one older piece in the program that was designed to be a retrospective, despite the inclusion of “What the Body Knows,” which was choreographed just last year.
“I’m getting to that age, isn’t it scary,” Goode said. “But I really love ‘How the Body Works.’ I think it rocks, so I added it.”
But the life of a dancer isn’t easy. They practice four hours a day, five days a week – longer if they’re working on new material. Their choreography begins with a problem, which they must solve through movement. If you think this sounds simple, you’re wrong.
A “problem” might be something like this. “I want you to lie on the table in an intimate way. The table is making a move on you, and you’re a bit hostile to this. And I want to see lines, long lines.” From there, you have to come up with representative movements, using nothing but the table and your body as props.
Since this is indeed a performance group, and not solely a dance troupe, a typical day’s work might also include acting or voice lessons. Just remember that the performers do this by choice, and not at Goode’s request.
“Joe actually told me not to take voice lessons,” Wright Cook said, “which I thought was really interesting. He likes the natural sound.”
The difficulties of combing genres are compounded by the fact that Goode is doing work so unique that he doesn’t really have any models to draw from. Sometimes his risks pay off. Other times, “We end up with dust. It’s a bit of a stretch,” he said.
Audience members are kept on their toes with the variety of sights and sounds – and interested audiences are always good. But sometimes you just don’t know where to look, and this detracts from the impact of the performance.
The only critique I have about the performance is that I would have liked to see a little more dancing and a lot less talking. But then again, complaining is part of my job.
Experimentation is necessary for growth, and innovators such as Joe Goode will always be welcome in the wonderful world that is arts and entertainment. At least I hope so.