dance, theater and music by Mary Ellen Hunt.

Monday, June 9, 2008

Dance Review: Joe Goode Performance Group-Remember the Wonder...

Midway through the performance of Joe Goode's latest "Wonderboy" -- at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts through June 15-- the dancers operating the titular puppet abandoned their charge and left him sitting alone in his window, awash in drifting filmy curtains. Such was the storytelling power of this fabulous creature, though, that I continued to stare at him for several minutes, ignoring the dancers downstage. Somehow I wanted to see what he'd do next-- I wanted to catch what his reactions to the unfolding dance would be--even though I was quite aware that as a puppet, he wouldn't...couldn't possibly move.

Goode's latest collaboration with the San Francisco-born, now New York-based puppeteer Basil Twist (they worked together on Paula Vogel's "Long Christmas Ride Home" for the Magic Theater) makes for memorable theater. If the execution is not entirely perfect, the wonderful boy at the center of the story is charismatic enough to carry the show, which plays on a double bill with an abbreviated version of Goode's 1996 "Maverick Strain."

As in "Christmas Ride," the style reflects a modern version of the Japanese bunraku puppet form, in which the operators of the puppet are not only visible to the audience, but play characters of their own. In a strange way, the parsing of Goode's choreography, with slightly self-conscious, inward-seeking movements, makes an excellent match with the range of motion available to the boy himself.

In fact, the dancers (Melecio Estrella, Mark Stuver, Jessica Swanson, Andrew Ward, Patricia West and Alexander Zendzian) have obviously lavished attention not only on their own solos and duets, but also on matching their movement to Wonderboy's choreographed phrases. Perhaps though, there is no one better suited to this danced bunraku style than movement professionals. Accustomed to working in partnership and projecting the lines beyond their own bodies, the human performers generously transfer "realness" to this latter-day Pinocchio.

But making "realness" is also Basil Twist's stock in trade. A master puppeteer, who can seemingly enable any object--puppet or not--tell its own story, Twist imbues his boy with endearing details, an enigmatic lift to the corner of his lips, a sparkle in his eye, that continually draw your attention back to him.

As Wonderboy observed and commented on the workings of the world from his spare metal window frame-- just as the audience was watching from outside our own proscenium/window-- I couldn't help marveling at the enormous empathy I felt for the little guy. When he left the stage, I was a little unnerved and disappointed, like a kid whose friend has moved away, and when he tentatively dips his foot into the flow of life, I sensed a rush of exhilaration at his jetes from place to place. If only we could have flown up the aisle with him at the end.

Visit joegoode.org for more information on the show.

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