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.