DANCE/THEATER After rapidly selling out its two-week premiere in May 2009, the Joe Goode Performance Group returns to San Francisco's lavish Old Mint for a luxurious one-month run of Traveling Light. JGPG's haunted tour of SF's oldest stone building, a monument to money power, unfolds as a series of made-up but history-laden vignettes scattered throughout the edifice, adding up to an inspired meditation on greed and desire, success and failure, the material and immaterial. On the eve of opening night, acclaimed Bay Area–based director-choreographer Joe Goode — who says the piece has changed only slightly since last year ("We're filling up the space better and perhaps telling the story more clearly") — spoke to SFBG from his East Bay home.
SFBG In addition to Traveling Light, you premiered another site-specific work last year, Fall Within, at the Ann Hamilton Tower in Geyserville. What's the appeal with site-specific work? Do you approach such pieces very differently?
Joe Goode You have to in a way because there's no front. People can see things from many different vantage points. Also some theatrical illusions are taken away from you. On the other hand, you have the personality, character, and history of the site, which is contributing enormous amounts of information to the moment. That is really exciting and delicious, and there's a lot that you can do with it.
The way I work with performers—the way I elicit material from them so that it feels personal to them—[remains] similar. I'm interested in an intimate, close-up glimpse of a real human experience. Many site artists get involved with the contours of the architecture, the aural properties of the site. I'm interested in all that, too, but retain my interest in that personal narrative.
SFBG That personal aspect, though, intersects with the Mint , an edifice reverberating very strongly with a larger social crisis, namely the enormous, growing disparities in wealth.
JG That's ultimately what the piece is all about. There's a kind of grandeur to some of the interiors of the building, which is just a disgraceful, ostentatious display of wealth. You can't help but feel it when you walk in there. This is the disparity that's been present in this city since 1850! I tend to think of San Franciscans as this very egalitarian, alternative, radical, and thoughtful group of people, when in fact there's an underpinning of those who have and those who don't. Those who have make a lot of decisions about what happens in this city. Those who don't, don't have a voice particularly. [The Mint] reflects that for me.
SFBG How is that relation between social systems and personal narratives worked out in creating the performances?
JG A lot of it comes from my imagination. I spent a lot of time in those rooms. Some of the narratives don't have anything particular to do with the history of the building, but there's a gilded balcony or a particular corner that makes me think of a narrative—a particular time, a person, what they might have been going through. Then I begin to weave the characters, again working very intimately with the performers, asking them their stories and how they felt about this issue, what it brought to mind for them. And I go off and write it. That's how it works.
SFBG You've used the term "felt performance" in referring to your work and your teaching method. Can you explain that term?