Salon NOTEBOOK: Joe Goode
by Zachary Whittenburg
February 15 at Links Hall, Joe Goode outlined his life through the lens of his work. The stories reached back as far as the days when fellow schoolboys' reactions told him his war sounds were impressively realistic. It "fool[ed] the kids in my neighborhood into thinking I was one of the guys," he said. Goode arrived in New York City at 20, six-foot-four and 140 pounds, with long hair and "beautiful feminine qualities" he refused to suppress. He looked otherworldly and was an actor who could move, leading him to find out by playing most of them exactly how many space-alien roles one city can offer. Goode danced for Twyla Tharp "in hot pants to Fats Waller." He dreamt of The Dying Swan from the back row of the corps.
The knack for vivid storytelling that marks Goode's works was potent served straight. It was hard not to be moved when he recalled the revelation he found in a shard of broken mirror leaned up against the wall of an old Army barracks in Hunters Point, San Francisco. Shown actions intended to convey anger and masculinity, it returned gesticulations that looked "frighteningly queeny. I knew I was gay," he said, "but effeminate? My own horror shamed me," Goode remembered.
"I always tell my students to find the risk, the discomfort, [tell them that] ‘That's where you want to be.' Well, there I was. And so I made myself deal with that fear and loathing."
The mirror had shed a light on his identity. Goode focused that light to create 29 Effeminate Gestures, the 1987 solo that took him around the world, recently recreated for dancer Melecio Estrella, who I saw perform it at the Dance Center February 5. Goode projected onto Links' back wall video of himself from its second revival in 1997.
Seeing Goode in the role after Estrella's performance illuminated a statement Goode had made earlier. "The thing people don't know about me," he said, "is that I'm a very technical person. I really like detail." So he does: Estrella's interpretation captured Goode exactly.
The solo seemed more like a ritual once the fastidiousness of its creation became known. The aiming of a power drill at the audience like a pistol, the tying of a coverall's sleeves across the belly, the location and angle of an electric chainsaw's cut into the back of a plain wooden chair: These are among 2,900 very deliberate gestures.
But most fascinating about Goode's presentation was what was discussed and how he considered each question. Shirley Mordine asked how Gestures played during its tour to Egypt. Goode replied with what he learned about the cultural specificity of gesture, triggering Phil Reynolds' memory of a hyperlocal example.
"The first time I saw Effeminate Gestures was in Vermont," said Reynolds. "They thought an electric chainsaw was the funniest thing in the whole world."
"Right?" replied Goode, laughing. Pursing his lips and holding an imaginary saw about six inches long with a beard trimmer's motor, he minced, " ‘I'm gonna prune my bushes with my little sissy toy!' " Goode paused. "But that came from me making a list of, What hypermasculine things can I claim? It was a short list, but I do happen to love power tools. I have a garage full of them and I know how to use them."
As in company works like What the Body Knows (2001, also video-projected), Goode's humor isn't kept far from his pain. He stood to demonstrate how he taught himself to walk after getting beat up for not knowing that arm movements and excitement are to be kept far apart. He marched stiffly, his elbows glued to his ribs and palms pressed against his thighs. Solemnly, he returned to his seat. "I killed that person off," confessed Goode, choking up. "I very effectively and systematically killed that kid. And he's not coming back."
Goode described how dancemaking is at times an excavation of emotions about that little boy he buried. "I can talk about him and make pieces about him and honor him as much as possible but I can't be him. I don't know where he is in my body anymore. I don't have the courage to be him anymore."
Molly Jaeger asked how long it took to create Gestures. "Long," came Goode's response. "At least a year." He went on to describe the gestation of a Joe Goode dance.
"I have no sense of an arc [at the beginning]," he said. "I have maybe the aroma, the scent, of a supertopic." (Goode stopped, looked upward, raised a hand and wafted air toward his nose.) "But I have no architecture," he continued. "No outline. I have tried to work that way and it's never been happy. It's never produced good work. It's always been about finding-and believing in-the little pieces that work and building outward from there."
Some attendees wanted Goode's advice and with seeming reluctance he obliged. Among his responses was the following:
"All of my work includes language but it's never super-dense. If you show conversation for 20 minutes straight, that becomes something else, and then you can't just start dancing around. So I try to spread the words out, keep them ventilated, repeatable. Poetic, so that there's space to move around inside of them."
Joshua Rackliffe asked Goode to advise the next generation of dancemakers, "who realize that the boundaries of the concert hall don't lend themselves to a movement experience."
"Make a minute," Goode answered, "or, God forbid, five minutes of material that you absolutely believe in, that really speaks to who you are. It sounds glib to say that but it's really hard to do. Make certain it speaks to the things you want spoken to, that it's timed the way you want it timed. Make a piece that you want to see on a microscopic level. You can't think, ‘I have to make it for Links Hall or for the Dance Center or so it fits on this program with these three other choreographers.' And there's no easy way [to do that]. It's trial and error. Just make that one minute that you absolutely love, that's underneath the fucking stairs. We're not so different, we really aren't. A lot of people will want to get under those stairs with you."
Goode acknowledged his optimism before anyone else could. "It's good business, you know, to be idealistic and work from your core values and what you care about." With a chuckle, he added, "It's also strangely impervious to criticism to make what you want to make. That should guide your decisions about how and where to do things. Does that help?"
The Chicago Dancemakers Forum's 2010-11 Salon series continues April 19 at Woman Made Gallery. Join Sara Shelton Mann in conversation with current CDF Lab Artist Erica Mott.