People who are familiar with Joe Goode’s performances won’t be surprised when they hear his latest endeavor is about making theatrical experiences more intimate.
What is unusual is his approach and investment: Goode signed the lease on his 3,500 square foot space in March, envisioning it as a place for classes, dialogue, rehearsals and more personal performance experiences.
After about three months of construction (including the installation of a heated and sprung floor), his company was rehearsing and dancers were coming for open classes. In November, Goode hosted the first part of a series called Human Kind which presents theatrical events on themes related to human foibles and vulnerability. The studio within his space measures 1500 square feet and served as the performance area, with seats for the audience set up at one edge of its rectangle.
More than a week before the performances started, each of the three shows had sold out. Goode has found his niche.
In some ways it’s a project he has been building since the 1980s when he created installation pieces and explored possibilities for closer interactions between performers and audiences. The Ascension of BIG LINDA into the Skies of Montana, an evening-long piece made in 1986, took viewers through a series of rooms in Footwork (Dancers’ Group’s former space and now home to Abadá-Capoeira) in the Mission District, and was later re-created for Theater Artaud.
In a 1989 Dance Magazine article, Goode told Janice Ross “BIG LINDA is where my heart really is. The proscenium stage is too much like TV. I’m interested in making experiences the viewer can participate in that aren’t just looking into the box. I’m really interested in breaking that up. I think it’s the future of performing art that we have to find another way to engage the viewers.”
These words seem prescient now that it’s 2011 and it’s not only television but all our gadgets and screens that lure us away from actually being with one another.
“The real truth of the matter is I love intimacy,” Goode said in December during an interview at UC Berkeley where he is a tenured professor. “If I could do performances one-on-one I would. I love the sense of the personal, of the confessional moment. Now my studio is intimate enough, and has enough nooks and crannies, so that I can do that there. Ultimately I want to do an installation where I really build out the space. My fantasy is that we would create an installation, some time in the next year or so, that is exciting to enter into, and that we could run for a while. Given the size of the studio the audience will never accommodate more than 100 people.”
Working with this scale creates a particular closeness, something Goode cherishes, but the space is also large enough to offer options. “Giving audiences permission to make choices allows them to get involved and feel ownership. Even if the choice is as simple as ‘I stood by the window’ or ‘I stood by the wall.’ It becomes their personal experience, and this is not the same as being served up something in the theater,” says Goode. He uses the word “volitional” to describe this viewing experience, and adds: “I finally feel like I have a space where I can cultivate that more and take it further.”
For the first installment of Human Kind, a series Goode hopes to present at his studio three times a year, the audience was seated but the performers surrounded and hovered over the viewers. For one scene, dancers scaled the studio’s walls, traced a path on a beam, and performed with the high windows of the studio offering a view of the cityscape as their backdrop. It was stunning.
To create this first installation performance, which was called Out of the Blue, Goode solicited responses from anyone who wished to submit a story. Through email and Facebook, hundreds of people sent messages describing how life had unfolded in meandering and circuitous ways. The stories were incorporated into the evening, transformed into gems of heartfelt humor and reflection communicated through words and movement. Mostly spoken by Joe, whose voice is an inimitable combination of preacher and hypnotist, the anecdotes told of lovers and dreams, some followed, some broken.
“At this stage in my life I want to devote time and energy to the things I really care about,” says Goode, who turned 60 this year. “I have always been interested in a place where the visual and theatrical combine into something that’s experiential for the viewer. If I could have my way, that is all I would do. In order to support the company I make stage works because touring is a big part of our income.” Goode is already exploring ways in which his studio installations can be adapted for more traditional proscenium settings, and is thinking about projects that enhance his commitment to exploration and communication, trademarks of his choreography.
A recent trip to Argentina solidified his desire to bring together artists in creative spaces, and his new studio may become a hub for conversation and exchange between disciplines and countries. “I was completely blown away by what I saw in South America,” he says. “There was a much deeper and more comfortable integration of dance with theater, song, visual arts, and installation. I really want to have a place where I can bring artists together and create dialogue.”
Already he has planted these seeds: open classes are offered three times a week, taught by Goode on Saturday and company member Felipe Barrueto-Cabello on Tuesday and Thursday. While Barrueto-Cabello’s class tends to be for more advanced dancers, Goode’s class, called “Movement for Humans,” attracts people who are older, recovering from injury, and former dancers looking for a movement class that won’t create an injury. Goode’s teaching incorporates movement and vocal exercises. “A lot of dancers my age show up,” he says. “It’s for anybody. Some of my most faithful students are non-dancers. It’s based in Buddhist principles, it’s about noticing instead of naming experiences.”
Other future plans for the space include programs for youth, as well as classes for people with Parkinson’s, taught by company member Damara Ganle.
Room to move, to create, and to rehearse is a requisite for choreographers, but it’s rare for dance companies (that are not ballet companies) to have their own studios. Costs of real estate and maintenance can be prohibitive. What’s encouraging about Goode’s venture is that it’s a commitment that both sustains and nurtures: carving out a space for his company, Bay Area dancers, and people who are attracted to performance and installation. It’s an investment in creativity as well as community.
Joe Goode Performance Group
499 Alabama Street #150
San Francisco, CA 94110
Kate Mattingly is a doctoral student in Performance Studies at the University of California, Berkeley.