Choreographer Joe Goode, based in San Francisco, has been making work for his company for 23 years, and visits New York once in a blue moon. The two pieces at the Joyce (through this past weekend) showed Goode’s ability to forge narrative, camp, identity issues, humor, and oh yeah, dance, into an appealing theatrical style all his own.
The program included the New York premiere of Wonderboy, featuring a boy puppet by Basil Twist.
Puppets handled by dancers can be immensely expressive, but I’m guessing choreographers avoid it as the puppet can wind up being a little tyrannical, dictating all the stage action. Not including artists dedicated to the genre, such as Twist or Dan Hurlin, just Jane Comfort’s amazing Underground River (also with a Twist puppet, clip on YouTube here) comes to mind when pressed to cite such a production of note.
The Boy sits framed in a curtained window watching the world go by without him, in particular one boy who catches his eye. Dancers take turns manipulating him— glistening glass eyes, auburn hair, cords, and all; these sections intersperse with solos and duets by the company. Other performers stand downstage and speak the text, which includes quotes on “wonderboys” from artists who’ve influenced Goode, like Sam Shepard and Krishnamurti. Their voices pass through a vox box, transposing it several pitches higher and giving different voices an eerie homogenous tone.
The Boy eventually leaves his window and interacts with the dancers, stepping on them like stones, doing loop-de-loops over them. A dance by four shirtless men brings home the flesh and blood that he’d been missing. In a dream-like sequence, cheerleaders of both genders scream out slurs and slang for gays. Eventually, he finds his real-life guy and they perform a sweet, inventive duet, and the Boy floats above our heads, up the aisle. The wondrous lighting is by Heather Basarab; music is by Carla Kihlstedt and Matthias Bossi.
Excerpts from an older work, Maverick Strain (1996), began the program. Situated in the side balcony, in full rhinestone cowboy regalia, Goode wryly sings us a song. Dancers Felipe Barrueto-Cabello, Melecio Estrella, Jessica Swanson, Andrew Ward, Patricia West, and Alexander Zendzian pose Bond-style in the aisles with guns. Just when you think the dialogue is veering toward gender stereotypes, the women switch roles with the men. Freestanding fences move around to partition the stage in various ways. The finale channels a vaudeville house, with travelling LED’s lining the apron and lots of sparkly goodness revealed on the fence backs.
Goode is a showman and a philosopher. His choreography relies on clear geometric shapes, extended simple lines, and visual treats. And his particular narrative threads and exuberant theatricality make for a refreshing experience seen in New York too infrequently.
Photo of Wonderboy by Austin Forbord.