Gentle Giant

Dance theater's "gentle giant" and Guggenheim fellowship recipient Joe Goode talks to about his career and current works.



Joe Goode's Wonderboy x100 (courtesy) |

And did you define that to yourself before you began?

It had to be personal. It had to be a statement, deeply
drenched in what I felt about life, about the world. And being
a gay man, and dancing as a gay man in the 1970s in New York
among gay choreographers whose gayness was nowhere in their
work -- that affected me. Why wouldn't I want to illuminate
the strong women and vulnerable men in my life? I don't
want to always stand behind the woman and open her legs and
show her as some vulnerable flower, something compliant. I want
to be the flower. So in our company, we lift each other and
move each other. I like that parity between genders.

So your sexuality became a large part of your

Always there's a homosexual thread in my work. Growing up in
suburban Virginia, I didn't have that. I felt so outside
life, so different, so broken, so in need of repairs. It took
years to realize that I'm OK. I bring that to the center of
my work. In the late '80s I made a piece called
29 Effeminate Gestures

-- what it meant for a man to own them, have them, and live in
them: how scary for the world and how unsafe for the carrier of

That makes me think of some of the discussion surrounding
Prop. 8 -- this comes up perennially in the gay rights movement
-- about how gays and lesbians should behave in public, how we
should represent ourselves to the straight world. Some argue
that we shouldn't be flying our freak flag, that progress
depends on people recognizing our common humanity.

I like to think it's our common complexity that's our point of
overlap. We're all equally complex and capable of embodying
our queer selves, our fallible selves. Trying to scrub
ourselves off and make ourselves perfect isn't going to
work. Straights aren't perfect either. We're imperfect.
We're all in a state of decay. We can acknowledge each
other in a friendly way. In accepting our difference,
they're accepting their own. You can be complex and full
and accept your own self.

Is there an autobiographical element to


Yes, and that's true for my collaborator, Basil Twist, as well.
Wonderboy is an ultrasensitive puppet who discovers he's an
artist and has some aesthetic power, that his way of seeing
things can teach people. I went from being an introverted and
nearly suicidal teenager to discovering art. And it's still a
survival technique for me, as it is for Wonderboy, a way to
make sense of the world.

Three dancers have to
operate Wonderboy at all times. But instead of being in black
and veiled, as they'd be in bunraku [the classical Japanese
puppet art], they're exposed. They're responsible for
their gestures and his at the same time. And these are
contorted positions. Dancers just want to flow and be open, but
when you're holding a puppet, there's a constraint and
tightness involved. Basil encouraged the dancers not to be
perfect puppeteers but to think of Wonderboy as a real
character, thinking and reacting in each moment, and they began
to say things to me like, "Wonderboy doesn't like it
over there." Now we treat him like a seventh member of the

We talk a lot about
disappearing into the material, and Wonderboy pushes that. He's
the star of the show and the audience is really focused on

Tags: Dance