Wednesday, June 15, 2011

The Rambler, by the Joe Goode Performance Group

When I saw that the Joe Goode Performance Group was going to be using Yerba Buena’s Novellus Theater for its production of The Rambler—a dance-theater piece, conceived by Goode, about the archetype of the rambler, the wanderer, he who cannot be pinned down—I was a bit surprised. The only other work of Goode's I’ve seen, last year’s Traveling Light, was so much about keeping the audience in motion, about using a space (San Francisco’s Old Mint building) in unexpected ways that I couldn’t imagine his art confined by a traditional stage, his audience sitting complacently in the dark.

(Joe Goode's new production. Photo by RJ Muna.)

Goode, true to form, does play with the conventions of traditional theater experience in this new work: The pre-show speech about cell phones and fire exits flows seamlessly into the production itself, and his curtains—that hallmark of the proscenium space—move simultaneously from multiple vantage points, veritable dancers in their own right, to constantly adjust the proscenium's confines. His tableaus are reliably pretty, thanks to Jack Carpenter’s eerie lighting design, and his dancers move with such precision that watching them ease into the end of a motion is as pleasurable as seeing it at the height of its force.

But what makes Goode unique as a choreographer is his love of language. His dancers speak—oh my!—blending the rhythm, cadence and emotion of their words with their movements. Often, what they say, taken out of context, would sound unremarkable, prosaic: “I’m just passing through” or “It will be awesome!” But through dance, Goode finds the musical, the connotative and the evocative in the banal and even the trite.

The trouble with this production is how sparingly language is used. The Rambler is meant to be less a story than an exploration: What drives the impulse to go? What does it feel like to be left behind? Some moments are triumphant, as when one dancer sheds a puppet (made by Basil Twist) like a cocoon, or when another asks why it’s always men, white men, who get to ramble. But many episodes—often, those without text—fail to assert a clear point of view on, well, rambling. Emerging from The Rambler, one remembers only a few gorgeous images with too many longueurs in between.

The Rambler continues through June 18. Info here.

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