“He’s a good boy…Heeee zzza Goode boooboi…He’s a…” chants and slurs Melecio Estrella at the start of “29 Effeminate Gestures.” Estrella hits this angry mantra over and over as if it were a punching bag, until the sentence turns into a beat and the beat into rhythm, and the rhythm becomes a solo performance on male masculinity and identity. Estrella has replaced Joe Goode who choreographed this autobiographical dance-theater piece for himself—a piece considered by many a masterwork. As such, “29 Effeminate Gestures” is as relevant today in our mash-up evolving transgender world as it was when it premiered in 1987. Thanks to a grant by the NEA (even though Goode has been reluctant in remounting older works) it is the perfect complement to “Wonderboy,” which also looks at identity and the yearning to fit in socially.
The choreography for “29” is a predictable series of weak-wrist-gestures, pinky finger raised teacup sipping embarrassment, and hip tilting booty smartly juxtaposed to power tools—from a running chainsaw to a gun pointing drill gun. Its brilliance shines for only 12 minutes but its concise impact lingers longer. The piece ends with a haunting version of “Sunrise Sunset” from Fiddler On The Roof with lyrics taking on a dramatic twist as Estrella hoarsely moans, “Is this the little boy I buried…”
“Wonderboy” was a collaboration with San Franciscan puppeteer Basil Twist who constructed the 3’1/2” lead performer that magically comes to life thanks to the talent of the full company. Performers speak for him, dance for and with him, and help bring reality to his doorstep. The seamless vocals mirror the sensual and lyrical choreography, as each member takes turn speaking for the boy giving his thoughts life and musicality. In this sense, thanks to the unique qualities of their individual vocal styles, the boy speaks for us all, bringing life to our own longing to fit in, our longing connect, to be seen, to have our dreams manifest… “It makes me ache its so perfect…” “How could I not ache to be a part of this…” pondered puppet boy.
The very action of moving the puppet is choreography in itself and is as integral and interactive as the principle choreography. The narrative flows elegantly one vignette into the next, beautifully carried by the music compositions of Carla Kihlstedt and Matthias Bossi. In particular is a section scored for piano that accentuates the open spacious, curtains blowing qualities of set engineer, Dan Sweeney’ design. From his large framed mobile window puppet boy looked out onto the world with anguished desire.
“Wonderboy” literally swings between effortless cheerleading “You can do it! Get out their and fight” pompom waving enthusiasm and gut wrenching self inflicted rape where derogatory names for homosexuals are used as the perpetrator. This flawless synthesis of text, music, movement, and theatrics, combined with a sincerity of subject that resists being too heavy while avoiding caricature, is what makes “Wonderboy” another signature Joe Goode piece.