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Review: Goode's 'Wonderboy' enchants

January 26, 2009 | 11:10 am

Goodethumb_2 The Wonderboy -- a puppet 3 feet tall, give or take an inch -- gazed longingly out an oversized window onstage at Irvine’s Barclay Theatre and narrated his observations to the audience Friday night.

The out-of-doors looked so beautiful, he recounted dreamily, he wanted to put a “frame” around it. He ached to venture there, he admitted, but he saw dire consequences to it. So he remained a physical and emotional shut-in, framed by his own paralyzing fear.

It is this touchstone search for love and belonging that San Francisco choreographer Joe Goode chronicles in “Wonderboy,” a 2008 dance-theater piece, created in collaboration with avant-garde puppeteer Basil Twist. The Barclay presented Joe Goode Performance Group in an intermission-less, 70-minute program, which also included an excerpt from Goode’s 1996 full-evening work, “Maverick Strain.”

Goode’s award-winning contemporary dances typically unfurl in digressive, collage-like scenes. “Wonderboy” proceeded along a more direct path. Goode’s six dancers took turns manipulating Twist’s innocent-looking, white-faced puppet and narrating the figure’s thoughts in a squeaky or electronically manipulated voice.

In Goode’s story, Wonderboy’s fears proved justified; his journey was not without peril. Through Goode’s effective stew of movement and dialogue, the dancers portrayed parents arguing violently and cheerleaders taunting Wonderboy. One cross-dressing cheerleader tried to fend off a date rape.

But Wonderboy eventually did find companionship. He abandoned his post at the window and actually danced with a newfound friend (Andrew Ward) -- an enchanting duet requiring many hands and complex plotting. The piece concluded with his soaring up the aisles, held aloft with rods.

Composers Carla Kihlstedt and Matthias Bossi crafted a (recorded) score of resonant minor tonal colors. There were moments of sensuality, comedy and desperation in “Wonderboy.” It was tautly constructed, without an ounce of waste or flab.

The dancers, including Melecio Estrella, Jessica Swanson, Patricia West, Alexander Zendzian and Mark Stuver (an unannounced substitution), were exceptional movers and talkers, always a challenging combination.

“Maverick Strain” was modified for its 1997 premiere at the Barclay. This viewer’s recollection of it is of the long passage devoted to the unsung healthcare workers who care for AIDS patients. The 25-minute excerpt performed Friday focused instead on Goode’s campy examination of archetypes of the American West. The sashaying Goode was a welcome sight in a black-and-white fringed cowboy shirt and furry chaps. He is one of the heroes of the dance world, questioning assumptions and keeping us honest.

-- Laura Bleiberg

Photo: Joe Goode in rehearsal with Wonderboy. Credit: Randi Lynn Beach / For The Times

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