Joe Goode Performance Group
May 16, 2009
by Rita Felciano
Copyright © Rita Felciano, 2009
Nestled among the golden hills of Northern California, and at first barely visible through the canopy of gnarled California oaks, Ann Hamilton’s Tower, a 2007 commission by art collector Steven Oliver, resembles the beacons of defense that dot lonely landscapes from Central Asia to the Scottish highlands. Eight stories high, with slits that pass for windows, it’s a forbidding structure that tells you to stay away. But as you enter—actually you have to crawl in—it opens into an elegant wall-hugging spiral staircase that invites a climb towards the oculus open to the sky. This powerful, yet vertically challenging space inspired Joe Goode’s translucent ”Falling Inward,” one of his gentle musings on living and the uncertainties that come from it.
What at first appears a single staircase is in fact a double helix that narrows and meets at the top. The audience journeyed upward on one level while Goode’s six dancers performed on the parallel one. For a while it looked like two simultaneous journeys. The audience processed in an orderly way upwards, finally becoming stationary; the sliding, running, skipping dancers engaged on more multi-directional trajectories.
Sliding down the banister in companionable two’s, or racing up the steps as if in pursuit, the dancers filled the structure with a sense of pulsating vigor that could dissolve into dreamy lassitude. From where I stood, I happened to see a stretchy duet between Patricia West and Felipe Barrueto-Cabello in which they seemed to melt into each other and the curved wall that supported them. A trio of interlocking limbs obliterated individuality but intrigued with its sculptural presence. When the dancers leaned deeply into space, you weren’t sure whether they were trying to get across or about to drop into dark pool below. You might see a wiggling elbow above your head or catch loping males across but continuity was more implied than visible. Compensating for this partial perspective was the intimacy in which the dancers reached, lunged and collapsed only a few feet away.
From above, hidden by a blue tarp that covered the oculus, Goode ruminated about “wandering uphill and downhill in the woods” and not knowing or caring where he was going. The touch of sentimentality—a much maligned feeling that Goode seems determined to rehabilitate—found an echo in a female voice below. It belonged to Damara Vita Ganley whom we had encountered initially in a white gown, spread out on the bottom of the stairs. I was unable to see how her presence related to the rest of the dancers—dressed in black body suits with white coats—but for sometime she resembled a water lily floating in the dark pond.
Goode always works with excellent musical collaborators. For “Falling”, with the San Francisco Girls Chorus, he could not have chosen better. Not only did these thirty-six young women—including excellent soloists—sing with pitch-perfect intonation, their Musical Director and Conductor Susan McManus had selected superbly appropriate scores. The music set the Tower humming, from the initial call/response patterns and vocalizations to the lovely recessional hymn “The Road Home.” A few problems of coordination between song and dance probably could be attributed to the technical challenges of a vertical performance space in which dancers and singers were unable not see each other.
The finale didn’t work. Massed at the top, the dancers released the blue tarp that was meant to float graciously into the pool. It dropped quite unceremoniously. Their configuration in an attempt at monumentality against the blue sky, looked pompous. The real ending, however, belonged to the choreographer. As audience members, dancers and singers descended their respective spirals, I looked up. There was a solitary Goode, leaning out of the Tower into the gentle landscape below.
Photo: Marit Brook-Kothlow