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Of Heroes and Fools 

Joe Goode Performance Group performs at the National Queer Arts Festival

Wednesday, May 31 2000
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Imagine living in an era in which one's association with certain political groups, or even rumors of an association with those groups, was grounds for being thrown in jail, deported, or blacklisted. Now imagine being highly visible in those groups -- say, helping to organize miners in the late '20s on behalf of the IWW, or becoming a leader in the Communist Party U.S.A. during the late '40s. And then imagine following up those experiences by forming the first openly gay civil rights group in the country -- in 1950, during the peak of the McCarthy era and 18 years before the Stonewall Rebellion. Harry Hay, now 88, did all that, and is rightly considered a hero of gay rights everywhere.

Joe Goode began exploring the concept of the hero with last year's Gender Heroes -- Part I. With Undertaking Harry -- Part II, Goode uses Hay's story to further develop the theme. If there's anyone capable of doing justice to this courageous man, it's Goode; the local choreographer and dancer was one of the first 10 artists to receive the $100,000 National Dance Residency Program Grant, was recently awarded New York's prestigious "Bessie" for dance and performance, and has had his signature work 29 Effeminate Gestures aired nationally on PBS. More important have been Goode's artistic innovations: Since 1979 he has pushed conventional boundaries of dance theater by combining text and humor with his gestural and explosively physical form of dance, inspiring West Coast choreographers to abandon straight story-line narratives and use their personal experiences as grist for their art.

But Goode has always been interested in playing with the notion of the archetype, too. In 1989's Disaster Series, he donned a worn tweed coat and matching oversized hat to play the Fool, a character he revisited 10 years later in Hapless. "I'm very interested in the unlucky, the undirected, unchosen outsider," Goode said of that work. "He's revered as a shaman, as having special insight and wisdom, but also scorned for not being normal. All my characters are an emanation of that fool." With Gender Heroes and Undertaking Harry, Goode moves on to show the other side of that "outsider" coin.

Joe Goode Performance Group performs Thursday through Sunday, June 1-4, at 8 p.m. at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts Theater, 700 Howard (at Third Street), S.F. Tickets are $20-25; call 978-ARTS. The performances are part of the National Queer Arts Festival, which runs June 1 through July 4; go to www.queerculturalcenter.org or call 552-7709 for festival details.

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David Cook

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