Joe Goode Performance Group

at the Dance Center of Columbia College

February 14-16

You just can’t help laughing when you first see Joe Goode onstage in the Disaster Series. Goode solicits that response with placid exaggeration–a porkpie hat, big eyes, wide mouth, and drawn-out vowels. The work’s ten sections treat disasters large and small, private and public, shared and borne alone, blurring the distinctions between them and treating them as metaphors for each other. Laughter distances: for all its floods of angst and disappointment, the Disaster Series is never maudlin. And laughter heals: the Disaster Series chooses to view the inevitable chaos of life as a profusion of possibilities, not a void. This is, after all, a world where anything can happen.

In “#1 Inappropriate/No Wonder,” Goode delivers his monologue standing behind a miniature ceramic landscape (by James Morris) he holds in a small black tub. “Anything can happen,” he says; “Aaanything can haaappen.” Smiling, he tells stories of loss, aching diffidence, struggles both epic and everyday. He empties a watering can over the landscape’s houses and fields. “Anything can happen”; emotions and events are “Tooo big. Tooo many. Inapprooopriate.” He recalls afternoons lost under the dining-room table, his imaginings there equal parts childlike wonder and mature hallucination. His beatific smile vanishes in the recollection of his friend’s funeral: he wields a larger watering can this time, and the water washes him too.

The second part of “Inappropriate/No Wonder” is a quiet, subtly shaded solo. Goode drops the goofy, engaging persona. He’s suddenly all long limbs, slumped, slack-jawed, and drained. His movements don’t seem to be his own, and whatever it is that shifts his center of gravity, swings an arm or a leg, or straightens his torso meets no resistance. He’s an empty form–broken, disengaged–in a formalist study.

In “#2 Car Crash,” four dancers enter along two bands of white light. They balance: the lines of the arabesque broken at the joints, the dancers isolated, their focus down. The image recalls Goode’s solo and suggests great looming birds; we hear a repeated beat reminiscent of a helicopter. Goode stands partially hidden behind the theater’s elaborate grillwork upstage, half speaking, half singing over Erik Ian Walker’s taped jazz score. Wayne Hazzard enters, his hand flies to his shoulder, his fist to his mouth. “Woke up in a car crash. Taste of metal in my mouth,” Goode says. The movements are angular, disconnected, and disconcerting: Hazzard’s torso strikes the floor; the dancers lift, haul, and reposition each other. Jack Carpenter’s lighting strikes them so that disembodied body parts emerge from the gloom. Images of childhood return as the dancers wheel and collapse in airplane turns, emitting screeching “hot wheels” sound effects. The darkening stage is littered with bodies.

In “#3 Doris in a Dustbowl,” Goode’s disaster metaphor really clicks: reality does scatter romantic fantasies. Wearing a bouffant 50s wedding dress, Elizabeth Burritt embraces, wrestles, and tumbles over a dinette chair while delivering a breathy, blissful recital of movie titles, scenes, and snatches of dialogue. “Doris Day,” she sighs. “Rock Hudson,” she draws the chair to her crotch. “Room service,” she strokes her spread thighs. Goode hovers about the edges of the scene, punctuating her reverie with puffs and drifting clouds of flour. He holds his head, barking “Thought. Thought. Thought” like a foghorn. Their duet is a study in near misses and close calls; they connect only to avert a fall or cushion a collapse. Goode grabs Burritt by the face, saying “And I thought, “Doris Day!”‘ Their swinging legs are the closest thing to orgasm in this twin-bedded fantasy world.

Then Burritt’s voice turns plaintive: “I’m not the girl next door. I’m not the perennial virgin. I don’t have a positive attitude.” They blow brown dust off another of Morris’s exquisite small sets: “The yard’s blowing into the next state,” “Nothing is like I expected.” “Doris in a Dustbowl” encompasses both the failure of the Hollywood myth machine and our nostalgia for it; the frustration and ambivalence are as familiar as the smell of Nestle’s Quik in the lingering dust.

“#4 Love in a Landslide” explores the vagaries, dynamics, and frustrations of male-female relationship. Burritt and Goode perform the text in the singsong characteristic of this piece, standing in the theater’s upstage loft; Marit Brook-Kothlow and Peter Rothblatt dance against the side wall of the stripped performance space below. The text adds detail to the images of passion and conflict that the movement embodies, images born of climbing and falling, bodies hurled full force against a black plywood wall, legs reaching in slow extensions, pelvises rocking and thrusting into the air. A soaring lift or a desperate clawing: anything can happen.

The text of “Love in a Landslide” suggests the failure of another romantic myth: the woman can’t see the man’s vulnerability, and he can’t recognize her strength. Their myopia is contagious–Burritt and Goode sketch the dancing couple’s movement, as if to replay their pattern of desire, struggle, and alienation on a different stage–and unending. Brook-Kothlow leaves Rothblatt; he echoes her movements as she walks to center stage. She repeats snatches of the text, missing their predicates: “He was. They were never really.” The fragments invite completion and suggest the search for another partner for the same doomed dance.

Anything can happen in a relationship, even a moment of tenuous rapport. Being alone is another matter. “#7 She’s So Nervous” pins a single dancer, Suellen Einarsen, in an upstage corner. The movement resembles that of “Love in a Landslide”: she trembles, tries to climb the wall, hurls herself into and out of place, falls and curls like a fetus. The onstage orchestra of dancers, a makeshift percussion trio, clatters and taunts, “She’s so nervous she’s a hurricane.” Einarsen pushes out into the performance space as the sound of rain increases and the hypnotic taped vocal fades away; she whirls in tense extended spins and then is catapulted back into the corner. She escapes again, only to back into the corner quietly, arms clasped. The woman in “Love in a Landslide,” moves on; the woman in “she’s so nervous” can only move back.

Goode’s monologuist reappears in “#8 Anything Can Happen” without his insinuating smile. He holds a small green house cupped in his hand and says, “Outside. Tooo big”–perhaps the performance’s most memorable image. “You can be beyond the indignity of feeling,” emulate Jackie Kennedy; or you can ride the wave, participate. “Anything can happen,” he croons.

“#9 Tidal Wave” strings the dancers along a long diagonal. They move one by one, their black veils floating as they melt in gestures suggesting grief, mourning, and collapse. The movements are softer, grouped in more continuous phrases, and performed with more ease than in the other sections. Three simultaneous duets spread across the stage; they evoke different images and move at different tempi. For the first time all evening, the choreography encourages and exhibits rapport between the dancers. And that, more than all Goode’s words, creates the paradoxically affirmative vision of the Disaster Series. It’s a vision that enables one to see some good in any disaster–just as Goode warms his hands at the miniature forest fire of “#10 A Walk in the Woods.”