Joe Goode, one of the premier choreographers in the nation, has forged his well-earned reputation with groundbreaking productions in the Bay Area. His latest of which, Traveling Light, will return to the Old San Francisco Mint beginning July 7th.
I spoke with Mr. Goode over the phone for our interview and was immediately put at ease by his accommodating and warm voice. He speaks with a thoughtful pace, as though constructing in his own mind the words needed to convey the thoughts he wishes to express. After talking with him for several minutes, I began to comprehend how a skilled choreographer works; imagining and organizing his steps before committing them to an audience.
When: July 7th – August 1st Wednesday – Sunday 8pm, also 10pm Friday and Saturday evenings
Where: Old SF Mint 88 Fifth Street (@ Mission)
Tickets: Buy online here
I began by asking Mr. Goode why he chose the Old SF Mint as his venue.
JG: When you walk into the Mint, especially when it’s empty, the walls speak. It’s so grand and alternately bombed out and desolate. Every kind of tragedy has happened there, every sort of excess has been jammed into the same vortex. In one room there is a gorgeous chandelier, with opulent windows, and intricately designed details in the woodworking. And then in the next there’s a vault with two inch thick steel doors.
And this inspired you to create a spoken word and movement piece?
It spoke to our culture. The disparity between the wealthy and the rest of us. The sense of individual lives that have been changed, decimated around this building. I’ve used these counterpoints in the work; the single figure in the vast courtyard, for instance. I think a lot about the disenfranchised. The people left out. Those unable to find a place. My dad was a labor organizer and I was always very aware of class struggle and the lack of opportunities.
You have a great deal of eclectic styles in your choreography, where did that all come from?
I started dancing when I was 7 or 8. I used to follow my sister to dance class. She was the glow fairy. Her tutu would light up in the dark. I eventually joined because the lessons were all free. They needed a boy in their group.
I studied tap and jazz and ballet and was constantly congratulated and valued. It wasn’t until high school that I asked myself: “How am I going to change the world in a pair of tights playing a prince that’s always noble?”
When I went to New York it was pretty easy to get work in modern dance companies and musicals. And in my off time I’d use that money to sneak off to 4th Street and do my own theater productions. It was very schizophrenic doing the two simultaneously.
Was it hard for your parents to accept that their son was an artist?
My parents were both supporters of the arts and had a great attitude towards my decision to be an artist. My father was also a newspaper man and when the New York Times reviewed one of my shows favorably, that seemed to validate my choice.
How did you start working with spoken word and movement?
I’ve always felt like I’ve been off in my little closet. I just started doing my own thing. When I began working in dance, I felt dissatisfied and disenchanted and there wasn’t a great deal of emotional narrative.
I was trained as an actor at Virginia Commonwealth University under William Prosser who was very experimental. He instilled in me a real appetite for turning things inside out and looking at text. After that, I went to New York and worked with him off-Broadway which was a very unique experience.
What do you hope to accomplish with your work?
I want my audience to have an experience. There’s that corny expression “I want to move them”. I want to dislodge them form their comfortable space. We live our life in a deep freeze. We’re on auto pilot.
Theater is a place where we can refresh that part of ourselves that feels. That part that cries or laughs. I’m not a fan of terribly cerebral work. I want to pierce that veil of toughness and get down to the feeling and the tender parts.
That’s pretty ambitious.
Most people can plug in their own experiences. I don’t want to impose it on them. I represent small moments where people can identify their own experiences in an animal way where we don’t have to reconstruct them literally. This has an unassailable truth to it.