Disaster Made Goode

Dancing on the edge with Joe Goode and his performers

Choreographer Joe Goode began looking at the hugeness of personal calamity back in 1989. He created his original Disaster Series as a modular series of performance vignettes that were restaged, revised, and reshuffled for a number of years, and eventually set the project aside for a while. But disaster strikes again. Goode, a faculty member in UC Berkeley’s Department of Theater, Dance, and Performance Studies, opens the department’s 2004-05 season with the world premiere of Disaster Series: The Continuation. The production features a cast of twelve — eleven student dancers and actors augmented by Joe Goode Performance Group member Liz Burritt.

“When we’re going through a problem in money or relationships or whatever,” he explains, “the problems become so magnified that they seem on the scale of a natural disaster such as a flood or hurricane. Of course they’re not, but that’s how they seem. The piece is a lot about scale, about what’s inside of us that’s so big and what’s outside of us that somehow feels so small. There seems to be a tragic flaw in human beings that allows our personal dramas to get so out of scale that we forget that we’re just a speck in the cosmos.”

Many of the specks that drive us to distraction center on love: love going very bad, love not happening, or love betrayed. Because love’s emotional upheavals cannot be portrayed from a distance, Goode’s actors and dancers must take great risks, exposing their deepest feelings in order to go for what he terms the “big emotional moment.” Since he has chosen to address issues of emotional collapse at a time when the entire planet seems poised on the brink of disaster, Goode finds himself “dancing on the edge” of statements that are overtly political. The challenge he faces is to address such issues in ways that bring the external back to the personal.

Only those who consistently revisit the Disaster Series will know for sure if such connections make it into the piece. Goode constantly creates his work anew, choreographing up to the last moment, even altering and adding sections during the run in order to maintain vitality, freshness, and a sense of discovery. “Performance is a living organism,” he asserts. “I place no value on sealing something in a Ziploc plastic bag and saying now it’s done, we can put it in the freezer.”

What is certain is that Goode’s creations are hybridized, combining language, movement, visual effects, and music in a language uniquely his own. “The stories emerge out of a very intimate place,” he says, “as if someone is making a personal statement, and then get gobbled up into the dance. Elements of the story reappear throughout the piece, constantly changed and seen from another perspective. It’s a way of fracturing narrative that liberates the text. I like to keep the audience and myself a little off balance, on one foot, and not let them get comfortable with the same predictability of dance to music. I tend to try to surprise them and myself, because I feel the truth is in the surprises.”

Joe Goode’s Disaster Series: The Continuation runs Fridays through Sundays, October 8 through 17, at Zellerbach Playhouse on the UC Berkeley campus. For tickets, call 866-468-3399 or visit the box office.

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