In dance, the body is substituted for the voice, the urgency of muscle and bone taken as universal, various languages codified in the form of techniques. All this replaces the dominance of the mouth and makes the lungs more engine than bellows. Joe Goode Performance Group takes on this trope in its newest dance theater piece, Hush, presented at ZSpace September 26-29 and October 3-5.
Focusing primarily on the narratives of two characters, Penny (Damara Vita Ganley) and Bert (Melecia Estrella), who each have a (not very secret) trauma to conceal, Hush is most fascinating for the soundscape it creates through the voices of its performers, a driving score performed live by Ben Juodvalkis, and the unusual presence of Foley artist Sudhu Tewari.
Ganley as the barmaid victim of gang rape sings with poise and conviction and discloses the horror of her experience in shudders that blur the outline of her body. As Bert, Estrella is poignant in his acting and beautiful in a duet with Felipe Barrueto-Cabello.
Every performer in Hush is strong, but the real focus of the show is the noise that usually goes unnoticed. Tewari's work is given all the care of a slow reveal, first making its presence known through the exaggerated flick of a lighter during a dialogue between Andrew Ward and Barrueto-Cabello. It gradually assumes a more visual presence as Tewari hovers in the shadows upstage painting in the sound of hard shoes against cement, butter scraped across toast, the crackle of dried flower stems crushed in a fist. Finally he occupies the same visual plane as the dancers, absurdly pouring water and clinking glass as Jessica Swanson, playing a ball-busting career woman with acerbic glee, gloats over her recent promotion while her deadbeat husband Ward listlessly makes pickles.
Whereas Foley artistry is typically used to lend verisimilitude to sound-bleached cinema, here it adds a pointed artifice to scenes in which the dancers sometimes speak and sometimes sing and sometimes move, mouths shut, to their own voiceovers. Everything and everyone is stringently miked, the music electronic, the sound emanating from some space above the stage, increasing the sense of disorientation. These effects are reinforced by the rolling set pieces--which first indicate the interior and exterior spaces of a dive bar and, by the end, are acknowledged as mere flats as four dancers rotate and push against a wall--and by the dialogue, which ranges from the painful juvenility of prose such as "We're like two flowers, and we need to grow each other," to lectures on "homoromantic feeling" and "the multipolarity of attraction," to the realistic but hackneyed interchange of friends encouraging and refusing to speak. The presence of these hyperbolic expressions jutting up against naturalistic action and even the common contract of theatrical artifice pushes the question of authenticity to the forefront: what is most human is not necessarily most like the world we inhabit.