Joe Goode didn't always like puppets. "I was a puppet-phobe," he admits. But he changed his mind after working with master puppeteer Basil Twist. The title character of Goode's latest dance-theater piece, Wonderboy, is an intricately articulated, three-foot-tall puppet, a Westernized version of the Japanese bunraku tradition.
Wonderboy makes its Cleveland debut when Tri-C presents the Joe Goode Performance Group Saturday. The piece incorporates Goode's innovative storytelling through dance, text and song with Twist's magical puppetry. It's about an unexpected superhero whose superpower is extreme sensitivity. The piece examines his feelings as an outsider and his journey through a world where his power is also a weakness. Parents should know that the script contains passages of harsh language.
Wonderboy was developed during a two-year period. Twist worked intensively with the dancers, teaching them puppetry techniques that involved operating levers and pulleys inside the body of Wonderboy. Perfecting these precise movements was a challenge for Goode's dancers, who are accustomed to moving expansively.
The dancers also had to adapt to dancing with Wonderboy, who is an active participant in Goode's style of athletic and deeply felt dancing. The puppet can bear weight and is handled firmly, and has to be sent to New York regularly for maintenance.
Wonderboy's music was composed by husband-and-wife team of Carla Kihlstedt and Matthias Bossi. Goode gave Kihlstedt and Bossi the image of a French silent film as inspiration. In addition, they incorporated songs created by the company to sing live.
Goode won't perform this time, but he will welcome the crowd. He's interested in taking "dance off its pedestal and making it more user-friendly."
The other work on the program — his gender-deconstructing solo 29 Effeminate Gestures, performed by Melecio Estrella — is the one that catapulted Goode into international attention in 1987. In it, Goode examines why certain gestures generate fear and incite violence, claiming them as part of his identity in the process. "It's one thing to be gay, another thing to be effeminate," he says.