Joe Goode © Kingsbury Hall Staff
Joe Goode
© Kingsbury Hall Staff
With the establishment of his new annex, San Francisco based Joe Goode can begin a project he has thought about for many years: a new dance installation piece based on Bachelard’s The Poetics of Space. The work will premiere in September 2015. 

 Goode calls his Poetics of Space an “immersive performance installation,” which is to say that both dancers and audience members will move through the new space currently being designed and adapted for the performance. “Some spaces,” Goode comments, “will be very intimate...some are elevated or off into the distance.” As dancers and viewers move through the smaller divisions of the studio space, they will at times intersect and interact.

“Bachelard talks of the phenomenon of space and how it affects us psychologically,” Goode explains. “As dancers, we understand that. We understand space.” He goes on to explain the particular power of space on humans, stating that he is concerned with “the redemptive quality of space; [how it can] lift you out of remorse or sadness.”

Interaction with the audience is a feature of Goode’s work. He has choreographed two other dance installations: Grace (performed at Grace Cathedral in 2006) and Traveling Light, which premièred in 2009 at the Old Mint and was presented again in 2010 due to popular demand. In both of these performances the audience moved in small groups through the space. The dance installations were adapted to the variations of space within the site. Both venues had numerous small areas – rooms or areas within the church – where distinctly different kinds of performance took place. Some focused on movement, others on language and some on theatrical or play-like events...though there was an overall theme determined by the site itself. I remember being startled by a poetry-reciting angel in Grace, who suddenly appeared when I rounded a partition in the cathedral. Images of poverty and material objects were revealed in the dark underground spaces of the Old Mint.

Goode is most interested in “getting the viewer out of the velvet seats,” and these performances allow the audience to discover space in ways that dancers or performers might.

© Joe Goode Performance Group
© Joe Goode Performance Group
He goes on to suggest it entails “a different ownership … everyone will have their own experience, and not every experience is of the same order.” For Poetics of Space, Goode is suggesting having smaller groups of viewers, perhaps only 50 or 60 per performance. “I really love that intimacy,” he states, “but there’s no way to make it solvent.” It is, he recognizes, “a luxury.”

But what a very special luxury! Intimacy is also something you don’t find in most dance theater, except in the smallest of venues. Goode calls his approach cinematic because “the scale of it is like a close-up.” At theater and dance concerts there is always at least a three-foot rift between the stage and the audience. Often it’s much larger, and in the larger houses there is the additional barrier of the orchestra in the pit. “When you’re sitting in a small space with a performer, or being led by the hand by a dancer, you believe you are seeing the interior of that person. There’s a video element about it, it’s like live feed.” It’s a moment of shared emotional life that Goode is hoping to instigate.

And music? Goode always uses a variety of music, from original compositions written for specific pieces to found music. For Poetics of Space, he is using a taped compilation curated by Berlin–based artist Peter Peschke. Because it must be filtered through several spaces and events within the site the track is somewhat subtle. On entering the space the music will create the illusion that the viewer is “entering an alternative night club” with many different spaces each linked and it will guide the viewer through the different instances of the performance.

Goode was inspired by Bachelard’s use of language as well as his ideas. But where Bachelard writes philosophy as if it were poetry, Goode treats language as if it were a form of music. As he talks about language, he waxes eloquently: “I’m a word person. I love the rhythm of words. I love the weight of them in the mouth, their different pitches and timbres.”

He also claims to love stories, and his dance pieces are often narrative: “As a person who likes language, to talk and sing, it never made sense why I was being asked to dance mute” he says, referring to the historical use of stories in the earliest forms of dance. He believes that many dancers who grew up under the modernist tradition pursued by Merce Cunningham and John Cage allowed for a purity of form. Yet he longed for something “a little more figurative.” Even so, he points out that many of the stories that his choreography tells are “fairly prismatic.” Like the structures of his dance installations, his narratives are non-traditional and allow for multiple and complex interacting stories.

All that leaves him with the task of finding dancers who can also speak and sing on stage. “I’m not sure if I find them or if they find me…I don’t hire them because they sing, but I’m attracted to dancers who want to embody things with their voice.” True to his desire, his dancers are often remarkable singers, sliding easily from movement to voice and back.

Joe Goode Performance Group in <i>Grace</i> © RJ Muna
Joe Goode Performance Group in Grace
© RJ Muna
 All of this makes Joe Goode one of the most remarkable choreographers on the current dance scene, and his dancers some of the most intriguing. His unique mix of performative techniques and his engagement with the audience in shared experience make his work both accessible and unique. It’s a vision worth sharing and supporting.

For more information about Poetics of Space, visit http://joegoode.org/poetics-of-space/