The conversational stylings of Joe Goode graced the stage at Georgia Tech’s Ferst Theater. Every now and then you get an artist who gives something else, something UN-catagorizeable. I would describe this piece as a full length dance theater production.
The Rambler (2011) starts off with Goode, himself, casually strolling on in his white suit and cowboy hat. He chats with us, as though having a conversation over coffee. He reads three poems. In the first, he talks about how dancers should never speak. The second becomes about the process and the third take us into the event of the evening with a personal account on hitchhiking.
In white the dancers enter the stage. The first time we see The Rambler character, he is a stereotypical version of himself, in a poncho and cowboy hat. The soft, athletic and tactile movement of the ensemble becomes the landscape in which he travels through. Instead of many sets, a unique use of the curtains also helps create the illusion that distances longer than the width of the stage are being traveled through. Two black sets of curtains are utilized. The one that closes together in the middle and the one that drops down from the ceiling. Using both together creates boxes of action or doorways and windows to peek through.
Another element that sets this performance apart is the fact that the dancers are not silent. They speak, sing, chant and provide their own plot twisting soundtrack. The harmonies are really beautiful and it creates an intimate environment where I felt like I was the only one in the house.
As the play evolves, we see that The Rambler character depicted in different shapes and forms. There are vignettes of little rambler stories. There is the Clint Eastwood type, Melecio Estrella, who wanders through the desert singing , “Going away…leaving today” with the word “again” being chanted underneath. There is an anxious little guy, Andrew Ward, who vigorously rubs his hands together announcing that when he gets there, wherever that is, “…it will be awesome!”, “…sick”, “…tight”.
The gentler sex, a debatable topic, is represented as well. Patricia West declares that women have to be present and don’t have the time to entertain thoughts of wandering. There is just too much to do. She explains that she can’t ramble over making breakfast, getting kids to school, tending to the Sick and cleaning the “DAMN” house. Then there is the sexual rambler, played by Damara Vita Ganley. Looking like a sophisticated Mother Ginger, she describes all her funny little lovers in her funny little French accent. She announces, “Fidelity is for children.”
Some of the most powerful moments, were created in collaboration with puppeteer Basil Twist. The curtain slides stage left to reveal a woman, Jessica Swanson, at a table on a desolate beach. She is the product of a rambler and in her story she compares herself a natural disaster. Similar to the setting she sits in. Her story reoccurs and each time we see different parts of her body covered in a papier-mâché material, until she is just a shell of her former self. Eventually she takes it off and leaves it behind.
The full length evening’s work was powerful yet gentle. The movement was luscious, well crafted, thought provoking and pulled at our heartstrings. The dancers expertly melted into each other, creating the landscape with which the characters traveled.
I have heard more often than I would like lately, that dance is an intimidating art form. Dance is meant to be seen, enjoyed, experienced and talked about. It’s all part of the process, but definitely not feared. Joe Goode and his company were successful in telling a story, breaking down theatrical barriers and demystifying the art form. This was a wonderful concert and an experience I would characterize as High Art. My only complaint was attendance. The house wasn’t even close to full. Where were you, Atlanta? Georgia Tech’s Ferst Theater brings some of the most exciting contemporary artist to town. As a cultural metropolis, we want this to continue and the artists to come back. So if you didn’t know, I am telling you now, make sure you check out what is happening at the Ferst.
(photo credit RJ Muna)