Joe Goode Performance Group
Cullen Theatre at the
March 6, 2009
Reviewed by Nancy Wozny
Photo by RJ Muna.
Joe Goode had a lot of nerve to show up for his curtain speech dressed in a black hat and fringed cowboy shirt smack dab in the middle of Houston’s rodeo month. “For some, this would be ironic,” quipped Goode, pointing to the corrals onstage ready for excerpts from his 1996 work, Maverick Strain.
Goode riffs off the cowboy legend, drawing from Arthur Miller’s screenplay for John Huston’s 1961 iconic but troubled movie, The Misfits, to paint a portrait of the Western outsider in the Nevada desert. It’s not all dreary, though. Goode has some fun with the Clark Gable role, oddly named “Gay.” The dancers sing, act, and throw themselves fearlessly into each other’s arms in Goode’s daredevil choreography. At one point, Goode takes on John Wayne taking on Montgomery Clift taking on every symbolic cowpoke on stage, screen, or rodeo. He swaggers right off the stage into the sunset/lobby. Lucky for him, Houstonians like to laugh at themselves. Goode crafts his dance in large strokes, leaving the text, songs, and other assorted details to deliver the nuances. The piece ends in a big production number, complete with Vegas-style footlights, glitterized corrals, and shooting stars. Houston could relate.
(2008) takes the outsider stance into a deeper, more poetic realm. Goode collaborates with renowned puppeteer Basil Twist on this winsome dance for six dancers and one Bunraku puppet. (So now the dancers who sing and act also know how to operate a puppet with finesse.)
During the first half, Wonderboy is confined to a window sill, longing to join the world. Eventually, the little man takes his first step, then a leap, until he seamlessly joins the dancing in the most inspired choreography of the evening. Unlike traditional Bunraku puppetry the puppeteers are visible and not shrouded in black. This clever device amplifies Wonderboy’s delicate gestures. The dancers so imbue him with life that, when he is left alone on the window, he remains a vital player in the dance, taking on the dual role of witness and voyeur. The subtle power of posture comes through in the body language of the motionless puppet. He joins the audience in watching Goode’s novel partnering.
Goode dwells in the gulf between watching and joining, delving into vulnerability, measurements of courage, the potency of innocence, and finally, resolve. The piece plays to hope—not a bad idea for these rocky shores.
concludes in a celebratory parade. Hoisted by the dancers above their heads, the magical puppet triumphantly sails through the audience as if to greet his fans. Finally, we gaze at his twinkling eyes, luminous face, and welcoming expression. Gentleness wins.
Goode and Twist so successfully brought their puppet to life and belonging, Houstonians wondered if the empty chair during the Q&A was meant for him.