We welcome Michael Sakamoto and Rennie Harris to our stage March 31, April 1 & 2, performing their butoh-hip hop duet entitled Flash. Below please enjoy Peter Carpenter’s program notes, introducing this work to our audiences. We hope to see you at The Dance Center for this remarkable performance!
Flash, by Rennie Harris and Michael Sakamoto, looks at the body as a site of crisis and contradiction. Conceived as a public conversation between the artists and their respective forms—hip hop and butoh—this transcultural experiment looks for connections between African-American and Japanese-American identities and finds common ground in their artistic responses to traumatic experiences.
In the autobiographical solos within Flash, individual childhood traumas—ranging from the continuous menace of helicopters in the militarized police state of Los Angeles to experiences with violence and molestation—are represented through the sound design, voice over text, and within the sometimes grotesque contortions of the body. In this context, the introduction of American popular songs highlights the social displacement of their cultural experience in contrast to the mainstream.
While the commingling of butoh and hip hop may seem unusual to some, both are contemporary forms associated with resistance to conservative social norms. Hip hop developed in the 1970s in New York City in African American, Latino, and Afro-Caribbean neighborhoods; butoh began to gain visibility in Japan a decade earlier. Beyond the geographic and aesthetic differences, both forms are rebellious, socially challenging, and require holistic immersion (one does not “do” butoh, rather one becomes a butoh dancer, and similar values of immersion circulate in hip hop). Both have connotations to danger. Both have become global phenomena.
As evidence of the potential synchronicity between butoh and hip hop, March 2016 marked the 10-year anniversary of a pivotal Chicago festival, The Body Breaks: Butoh, Breakdancing, and Beyond, curated by Nicole LeGette for Links Hall. The Body Breaks brought together contemporary artists working in the two forms for a month of performances, workshops and public discussions. From this vantage point, Sakamoto and Harris continue not only in the ongoing development of their respective forms, but also in a distinctive coalition between butoh and hip hop that may be familiar to some Chicago audiences.
Flash provides us with a unique opportunity to witness the conversation between these cultures and these artists as they engage the body in crisis. We invite you to witness the remarkable representation of human experience that arises at the convergence of these potent dance forms.
We loved having Joe Goode Performance Group at The Dance Center for a full and generous two-week residency! And we hated to see them all head back to San Francisco last Sunday for we feel as if in many ways we are a second home to this wonderful ensemble. From their first arrival to work on The Resilience Project to the final moment on closing night of Hush, the residency touched many lives and reminded us once again of what wonderful dance theater JGPG brings when they come our way.
Hush was the latest example of the elegant, inventive and tender work that Joe creates with his ensemble. It’s no small task to take on subjects such as how we “hush” ourselves over desperately difficult experiences and yet sustain artistry, beauty and a certain postmodern irony in contemporary dance theater. With Joe Goode’s work, we keep coming back to the same word over and over: human. In this case using the skills and contributions of the performers as well as the wonderful work of Joe’s artistic collaborators, composer Ben Juodvalkis and foley artist Sudhu Tewari, Hush indeed “roared.” And of course here within The Dance Center faculty and students, we were overjoyed to see long-time faculty member Liz Burritt back in action with JGPG, after a long hiatus of working here in Chicago and teaching in our program.
Thank you Joe & everyone! You all rocked. Come back to Chicago soon.
Next up: Michael Sakamoto and Rennie Harris, in Flash.
One of my goals in making this work was to expand the community of the art-making process to include some civilians. I wanted to develop the characters in Hush based on conversations, not just with my immediate collaborative circle, but with ordinary folks who might have experienced the phenomenon of being “hushed” or of “hushing” themselves.
To this end, a few members of the company and I set up some casual conversations with a few particular communities: LGBTQIA teens and young adults who have experienced exclusion or bullying because of their sexual identity; women who have been sexually assaulted and felt the lingering effects and the terrible stigma of that experience; elderly citizens who are living in an urban setting and contending with the “youth” culture of the city; and people with Parkinson’s disease, some elderly and some not, who have felt themselves marginalized with the onset of their disease. We asked them how and if they had felt hushed, or if they had hushed themselves. The stories flowed from there. We just listened and recorded them with our smartphones.
The challenge for me as a writer was to take a few of these delicious tidbits and weave them into the script. Much of what you will hear comes from my imagination, but there are some fairly direct quotes from the interviews, as well. None of the characters are even remotely close to the people we interviewed, but I have given them strands of what these “real” people said to lend a kind of heft and reality to the language.
I have envisioned Hush as a narrative work. I wanted to spread my wings as a writer a bit more, to see if I could write characters who were consistent throughout the piece, but I couldn’t have done it without the participation of these wonderful volunteers who inspired me with their stories.
Joe Goode Performance Group company members in rehearsal at The Dance Center (l-r) Melecio Estrella, Felipe Baruetto-Cabello, Alexander Zendzian, Liz Burritt
Interview by Lizzi Wood, class of 2016
Joe Goode Performance Group (JGPG) incorporated in 1986, aims to promote understanding, compassion and tolerance among people through the combination of dance and theater. JGPG is based in the San Francisco Bay Area and has also appeared in Canada, Europe, South America, the Middle East, and Africa. Joe Goode is a highly recognized innovator in the world of contemporary dance, receiving numerous national and international awards. The company’s most recent work, Hush, makes its Dance Center premiere on March 10.
Last week, I sat down with Joe to talk a bit about Hush, his choreographic process, and creating felt material.
Lizzi Wood: Hush was born out of six personal narratives that you gathered from members of your audience and community. What made you want to approach this work in such a personal way? Was there one story in particular that you feel is really a driving force behind Hush?
Joe Goode: I’m a writer, and I’ve always enjoyed that, it has always been part of what I do in my work. I was just feeling like, instead of creating characters and creating stories, what would it be like to tell real stories? Real stories of real people’s challenges. So we asked some of our friends and community members to tell us stories about moments of difficulty in their lives, when they felt it was difficult for them to move forward. I wasn’t sure if they would even want to talk about it, but when you ask people that question, they have a lot to say. We made a piece from all that material called When We Fall Apart. But they tended to be stories of people aging, and losing their sense of identity, their sense of vitality, their sense of relevance in society. Maybe that’s a comment on me, and the people that I know, that we’re getting to be that age. So I thought it would be fun to make a piece that was about young people. We actually went down to Stanford and we interviewed a bunch of people. A big issue was sexual assault for women. The whole idea of sexual consent. You would think an esteemed university like Cal or Stanford would have evolved beyond those kinds of issues. But women feel unsafe on those campuses, kind of universally. One of the stories is about that.
Because of the community we were talking too, there were also a lot of stories about gender identity and sexual identity. People who didn’t feel like they could be really defined in a sexual identity, and also people who were really questioning their gender. I realized these stories are more universal than I thought. But the other thing we discovered about that age group was that people value their friendships. There’s a real bond and a sense of community really starts in these intimate friendships. All those issues are kind of in the piece. There is a sense of malaise in the youth culture – a sense of, “I really don’t know what I’m doing with my life. I feel like everyone’s telling me I’m supposed to have a sense of direction, but I really don’t, and so I feel like a phony.” And there’s this sense of almost being lost in that indecision, in that lack of focus. I think these are things that have been true for many, many, many generations, but maybe this generation is just more aware of what they have and what they don’t have.
LW: If you had to list some communities that you would hope your work speaks to, what would they be?
JG: Well, that’s an interesting question, because I really like starting conversations across communities. I’ve never wanted to just perform for the LGBTQ community. Although, technically that’s the community that I belong to. I feel like there’s plenty of work and plenty of places where that community can talk to itself. But I’m really more interested in talking to the mothers and fathers of those people, or like, the cranky uncles of those people. The people who think they don’t like those people. It’s just more compelling for me to think that I’m finding a kind of human commonality across communities- so my issues are the same as your issues. We’re both going to get sick and die, we’re both going to lose our parents. We’re both going to move several times, we’re going to become aware of other cultures in some way. These are things we all go through. So I don’t think of myself as reaching out to a specific community. People often comment on my audiences, saying “oh you know, this isn’t a dance audience, these are old people, and people of color, and queer people, and pretty conservative looking people” It’s a mixed group, and I’m happy about that, that’s what I prefer.
LW: You collaborated with some pretty amazing sound artists on this project – and are using Foley art to accompany the movement on stage. How was this process? Were there any specific challenges that you faced along the way?
JG: A Foley artist is really a studio artist. A Foley artist sits and watches a door close on a piece of tape, and watches it a million times until he finally finds the perfect sound that really sounds like that door closing. So I asked a Foley artist, Sudhu Tewari, who is also a musician and a composer. In his Foley work, he’s working on movies. He gets to do it over and over again with movies, so it was challenging with us because he has to do it live We’re making actions and he’s making sound for that. I wanted it to be hyper real because the piece is called Hush, it’s about stories that people don’t want to tell, it’s about keeping things hidden, it’s about keeping things to yourself, maybe only sharing with that one special friend. It was hard to not make it just a joke. I didn’t want it to be just a joke – I mean, it’s funny – but I didn’t want it to be merely that. I wanted it to amplify the quiet in that person’s mind. Or, the privacy of the secret. It was tricky getting the balance right of how loud these sound effects should be. They can start to sound like some amplified contemporary music, they don’t sound like the actual thing that’s happening. I think we hit the balance finally, but it took a lot of trial and error.
LW:I know you’re doing a workshop with Columbia students this week called ‘Creating Felt Material’. Can you explain a bit about this concept?
JG: Felt material is material that you can own, that you can live in, that is yours. It doesn’t necessarily have to be autobiographical, because that gets old pretty fast. I don’t think my story is that interesting, ultimately, and I’ve told it many times. But, the way I feel the world is unique to me. The way I see the black floor is different than how you see it. So if I’m going to make something about the black floor, I really have to own my own perspective on it. I have to discover what that is, first of all, and then I have to put it in my material. I have to own my own perspective and really color things with how I see and how I feel the world. Some people love parties, I break out in hives. So if I’m going to make a scene about a party, I’m not going to choose somebody else’s perspective. I ask people to choose the felt perspective on their own material so they can really own it. And so it’s unique to them. That way later on when you’re building it a work, you’ve contributed material that’s personal to you. And you’re always going to feel, no matter what direction that work goes, you’re always going to feel ‘that material is mine, and I have ownership of this work.’
LW:How does your approach towards dance, one that involves the incorporation of text, and singing, and movement, shape or frame your rehearsal process?
The rehearsal process is kind of like a big workshop. We’re always working on multiple things at the same time. So somebody will be in the corner working on a little piece of text, maybe responding to a sentence in their own way, or relating an experience of their own. Somebody else is working on a four-note lullaby, two other people are working on some partnering. And somebody is responding to some instruction that I’ve given them about circular movement. The collision is really where the work comes alive. Sometimes the combination of x and y is much more interesting than x or y. We throw away a lot of material, we make a lot of material. It’s not linear, It’s constant little pools of material that we’re generating. Then there’s a long process of editing. Then the hardest part of the process is the arcing of the material. So you might have lots of cool stuff, but does it belong in the same work? We might find a character has kind of emerged here, do we want to keep that character all the way through? Do we want to imagine all of this material happens to that character? Is there a way to do that, can we align or manipulate this material in a way that serves that goal? It’s really hard, and sometimes the piece gets ruined in the process, sometimes you edit the wrong things out or leave the wrong things in. It’s tricky.
Joe Goode Performance Group performs on the Dance Center stage, located at 1306 S. Michigan Ave., March 10-12 at 7:30 pm. A post-performance conversation will take place Thursday, March 10, and a pre-performance talk with Joe Goode will take place Friday, March 11 at 6:30 pm. For additional ticketing information, visit colum.edu/dancecenterpresents or call the box office at 312-369-8330.
Above: Joe Goode Performance Group rehearsing The Resilience Project
On February 29, Joe Goode and members of his San Francisco-based Joe Goode Performance Group took up a two-week residency at The Dance Center. This marks their fifth appearance on our season since 2000, testimony to a longstanding partnership with this wonderful ensemble. Their last visit, in 2011, featured Joe’s lovely and moving evening-length collaboration with puppeteer Basil Twist, Wonderboy, plus a look at his signature solo 29 Effeminate Gestures. This week the company will perform Hush, a narrative dance theater work taking place in a run-down bar populated by workers troubled by their own dark secrets and searching for pathways to self-empowerment and healing. We’ll be telling you more about Hush as the week progresses.
Last week, the company worked on what Joe has titled The Resilience Project. It aims to explore how we as humans deal with trauma, using storytelling and performance as a way of finding universality and strength in the face of adversity. “Resilience, to me, is about falling down and getting up,” Joe Goode has written. “It is about absorbing the impossible difficulties that come one’s way…it can also be about pressing the restart button, about accepting tragic and often devastating circumstances, and moving on to create a new condition for one’s life.”
When we first learned about The Resilience Project, we determined to find a way to bring it to Chicago. We imagined that this would be a superb element in our Audience and Community Engagement (ACE) program. After discussions with Joe, we identified American combat veterans as the population we wanted to involve in the project. Thanks to a grant from The Chicago Community Trust, plus the beautiful work and efforts of Joe and his team, we were able to bring this dream to reality.
Working with advisors from several veterans groups here in Chicago as well as representatives from our Creative Arts Therapies Department at Columbia College Chicago, we identified half a dozen interviewees who provided the stories that Joe and his dancers used as source material in assembling the Chicago Resilience Project performance. After a week of intensive rehearsal, the company performed the material on Saturday, March 5 for an enthusiastic audience that included veterans, their family members, individuals from the healing arts community, and teens dealing with PTSD. The project was deeply moving to all who attended and participated, and we are grateful to all those veterans and supporters who helped make the project possible.
More to come on Hush, so check back often or better still sign up for notifications when a new blog entry is posted! We hope to see you on Thursday, or Friday, or Saturday night.