Joe Goode Performance Group
Old Mint Building, San Francisco, August 09
“Traveling Light” Performance/Installation
Joe Goode’s Traveling Light began on the avenue, as one turned from street level to the steep steps of an imposing old Mint Building. Both the sharp vertical ascent and the Greek Revival architecture of this turn-of-the-century building were enough to take one’s breath away. With each step taken, one couldn’t help but imagine ghosts from other eras walking along side, from gold miners with their sudden fortunes, to the victims of the Great Depression with their sudden misfortune. Even the street below looked out of place once at the top, the cars and fashion wrong, the commercial space a few doors up even more vapid from this dignified perspective belonging to another time.
“If only these walls could talk… the heartbreak, the hubris, the dreams and mortification they must have known,” writes Goode about his world premiere and collaboration with lighting designer – and cohort of twenty years – Jack Carpenter. Together they set out to create a work that played with and against the architectural demands of raw unfinished space. It was only by chance – by their good fortune – that they came upon the architectural treasure of the Mint building.
A grand monument to fortune, the Mint would not only inspire and dictate content, choreography, staging, and lighting, but also, how the audience would participate. For the audience, the vertical climb on granite stairs began a choreographed meandering through the Mint’s different rooms, hallways, and courtyard, lead by tour guides holding up assigned group numbers. The audience was reassembled into different configuration as often as the performers, sitting horse-shoe-shaped along the walls of one room, in raked rows of a courtyard, or lined up in two rows in a room once the Mint’s office with its engaged columns and narrow balcony with wrought-iron balustrade.
From these various vantage points, along with authentic and pseudo levels of intimacy between audience and dancers, an interweaving story line unfolded. A tale both tangible and vague – that mixed a past global depression with our contemporary financial downturn – was sung, danced, acted, and narrated by an adept ensemble. Each narrative was as tailored as each room, yet held together by an imposing architecture of not having enough, of having too much, of losing everything – be it lover or be it job.
“You would have liked this place; it feels like home,” said a female dancer in a darkly lit room with a marble fireplace and chandeliers wrapped in canvas, stage light pouring through a solo window. Mysteriously, with comedic flair, she glided around the room as if her turn-of-the-century dress had skates under it. She then opened her walker-framed skirt and walked away from her dress. Stripped to her contemporary underwear, she passionately danced with her lover who also undressed to his briefs. “It was an acceptable arrangement for the summer,” she explains as their relationship goes bankrupt.
As she spun her web fragmented voices, distant singing, and echoing arguments from other rooms and space drifted through the corridor; “You think he’d be satisfied.… It’s better up here.…” “Perks of the rich and gorgeous.… I’m gonna get by here in the empty room unnoticed.…” Like voices in a dream the constant text was hypnotic, skillfully delivered, and as much a part of a rich soundscape as the ambient score and songs sung.
Traveling Light is a site-specific-work and as such should be seen more than once to absorb its many layers, fragments that in and of themselves may not add up or, may outshine other elements when viewed separately. It blurs natural light (a foggy-pinkish city twilight sky over an outdoor courtyard that fades slowly into a charcoal night grey) with Carpenter’s lighting design, and natural urban noise (sirens, helicopters, car horns,) with Jay Cloidt’s soundscape. Or, maybe these relationships are only of interest when the content wanes?
Traveling Light also provokes the age-old dilemma on the co-dependent relationship between audience and performers, indirectly asking where does one role end and the other begin? And, just because the audience is close enough to hear performers breathing doesn’t make them lovers, or more intimate than when separated by an orchestra pit.
Throughout the performance, the audience was in constant proximity to the performers in an attempt to merge the seer and the seen. Yet, no matter how close the audience is to the action afoot, they remain eternally the voyeur – the chair with eyes. This was most apparent when the audience could glimpse through the four windows at the far end of the rectangular courtyard, into the intensely lit performance going on indoor while bypassing the foreground performance they were meant to be watching. Here they could truly be voyeuristic, sneaking a peek of something they weren’t necessarily meant to be watching, while having the pure joy of catching themselves drooling before being noticed.
It could also be that Carpenter’s most dramatic lighting was in that indoor venue where an overhead computerized theatrical lamp followed a performer below like an alien abduction about to happen, and that the courtyard lighting was more pedestrian with the choreography and action not as strongly suited for a less intimate space.