Joe Goode Performance Group

June 1, 2000

Felipe Barrueto-Cabello in Joe Goode’s Gender Heroes.
Photo by Terrance McCarthy

Joe Goode Performance Group

Yerba Buena Center for the Arts
San Francisco, California

June 1?4, 2000

Reviewed by Rita Felciano

Every artist has the right to go through a slump. This seems to be Joe Goode’s time. When he premiered Gender Heroes?Part I last year, in conjunction with the glorious  Doris in A Dust Bowl and 29 Effeminate Gestures, one could withhold reservations since, after all,  Gender at that point was but one section of a larger work. Now that  Gender has been joined by its second half,  Undertaking Harry?Part II, it still feels deeply flawed, as does Harry.

The two complementary dance-theater pieces explore a very nineties subject?gender and identity. Gender Heroes grew out of interviews Goode conducted about how people had constructed their identities; Harry is inspired by a real life “gender hero,” gay civil rights leader and founder of the Mattachine Society, Harry Hay.

Over the years, Goode has created a witty and ironic form of dance theater in which movement amplifies verbal language, shedding light on emotional nuances and hidden subtexts in a way that only dance can. At his most successful, Goode speaks with a finely articulated voice that expresses a humane and singularly contemporary sensibility. This is what is missing in the new work; much of it sounds and looks shopworn.

Gender Heroes
consists of three primary stories; one about a confused little boy who is haunted by playful but also threatening fox-like creatures, in part because he covets his sister’s fringed cowgirl skirt. In the second, two young prisoners on the run create a fluidly shifting relationship. The third story presents a pallid trio about three maiden farm sisters who live their lives plainly, but richly and independently.

In creating the unequal duo for the hunted escapees, Goode took advantage of the disparate sizes of two of his dancers, a tall and lanky Felipe Barrueto-Cabello and a compact, voluble Marc Morozumi. The latter talked nonstop, trying to make sense of their situation while the two of them are engaged in frantic runs, body entanglements and overhead lifts. The improv-based movement is conventional to the point of monotony, but small details and gestures of intimacy suggest that what these young men are escaping from and maybe running towards is more complicated than what meets the eye.

It’s that kind of subtlety and layering that was missing in the three sisters episodes. The movement interludes to Elizabeth Burritt’s twangy narration?she has Goode’s style of delivery down flat?of the sisters’ life was too nondescript to be enriching. The note of naiveté to this whole episode, which included a ghastly rendering of some “country” music by Marit Brook-Kothlow, also sounded false. I think Goode ran into a not uncommon artistic dilemma: of how to create banality without becoming banal himself.

had its own skirmishes with triteness. Here Goode one more time assumed his persona of the quintessential Western movie hero, the cowboy, this time in full regalia. Movement invention has never been Goode’s strongest point. But he is an excellent writer, witty, ironic and insightful. Yet in Hero his gift for gab seems to have abandoned him.

A social dancing quartet for two couples?in every possible gender/sexual permutation?looked downright silly. Still, two of Hero?s seven episodes spoke strongly. One of them was a solo for Barrueto-Cabello as a sailor on the prowl. There was nothing even vaguely fancy free about this hard-edged time bomb throwing his angrily displayed body into pose after aggressively pose. A fiercely active quintet in which the dancers egged on each other to jump?over, along, atop?a bar and assorted stools, started out desperately, but ended as a kind of comedy act. Whether that was intended or not, I cannot say. Knowing Goode, it probably was both.