Masterfully commingling aspects of experimental theater and contemporary dance since the early Eighties, postmodern maverick Joe Goode has used everything in his art -- from power tools to Chanel suits, spoken word to singing, film to fables -- to peel away the convenient packaging of society's particular, often peculiar, brand of prescribed roles for gender, art, and humanity. What's his matchless legacy? A critically acclaimed body of work that is by turns strangely smart, brutally honest, amazingly tender, and profoundly funny.
Opening the season for Miami-Dade Community College's Cultural Affairs Department's Cultura del Lobo series, the Joe Goode Performance Group graces a Miami stage for the first time in its current production, Gender Heroes: Undertaking Harry. The show is a tribute to and an intimate portrait of the "people who really have the courage to construct a gender for themselves," explains the San Francisco-based choreographer. During Gender Heroes Goode asks ambiguous questions out loud, such as "What if we live with stories that bear no resemblance to the stories we've learned?" and "What if there is no guide, no hero in a cape, who presents himself and says, I will show you the way?'" But it is the very pointed query, "Who was the hero of your sex?" posed to a diverse group of San Franciscans that inspired the creation of the piece's motley characters that include a pair of young convicts escaping through the Nevada desert, three unmarried sisters who run a farm, and Goode's own account of a boy punished for coveting his sister's cowgirl skirt. Adds Goode: "Most of us just accept this is what a boy does, or this is what a girl does. There are stellar exceptions who refuse to be classified as something. I admire those people; I'm not sure I'm one of them, to tell the truth...."
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As a bookend to Gender Heroes, the piece Undertaking Harry addresses the tumultuous life of Goode's very own gender hero, revolutionary gay activist Harry Hay, who in 1950 founded the Mattachine Society, a political meeting group for homosexuals that presaged gay activism in the United States. In 1978 Hay also helped found the Radical Faeries, a gay spiritual group unhappy with what it perceived as the "heteroimitation" of the mainstream gay movement. Goode, who is 49 years old, only learned about Hay as an adult, finding him a powerful figure who espoused "all sorts of ways to be gendered and all sorts of ways to be sexual." So what did the venerable 88-year-old Hay think of Goode's creative rendering when he attended its premiere this past June? "He was very flattering," admits Goode. "He called me the maestro.'" A role with which Goode definitely can be comfortable.