Review: A Goode journey of wonder

Joe Goode’s “Wonderboy” isn’t any old puppet show.

Yes, the title character in the San Francisco dance-theater innovator’s world premiere onstage at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts is a puppet created by Basil Twist (whose work was scene at the Magic Theatre in Paula Vogel’s “Long Christmas Ride Home.”)

Manipulated with fluidity by swift dancers of the Joe Goode Performance Group, the creation becomes human alongside the members of the troupe, who, like in typical non-linear Goode productions, explore the psychological, physical and emotional boundaries of the human experience.

Set to an evocative, melodic contemporary original score by Carla Kihlstead and Matthias Bossi, with dialogue by Goode inspired by writers such as Sam Shepard, Thom Gunn, Christopher Isherwood and Krishnamurt, the piece tells an abstract story of an ultra-sensitive boy’s journey into and through the world, beginning with his look out a window, bordered by flowing curtains. He timidly peeks out, in an attempt to connect with others; his voyage allows him to do so.

Wonderboy interacts seamlessly with the performers, often mimicking their movements. It’s a fun experience for the viewer, and added challenge for the dancers, who have learned to combine working a marionette with executing Goode’s finely-tuned choreography.

The dancers — Melecio Estrella, Mark Stuver, Jessica Swanson, Andrew Ward, Patricia Wet and Alexander Zendzian — acquit themselves well, clearly enjoying bringing life to their cohort.

As with many of Goode’s works, the lack of “point A to point B” and the introduction of seemingly odd snippets, for example, a segment in which cheerleaders shout gay slurs — can prove perplexing.

Still, Goode’s sounds and images remain provocative, bittersweet — and joyful.

The premiere was paired with excerpts from 1996’s “Maverick Strain,” a full-length installation based on Arthur Miller’s screenplay for “The Misfits” starring Marilyn Monroe, Clark Gable and Montgomery Clift.

Goode himself contrasts the themes of the two presentations in this 22nd home-season opener. While “Wonderboy” zooms in on the intense, scary, powerful need and desire to reach out to others, “Maverick” represents what Goode calls the uniquely American propensity for individualism, particularly as depicted in the classic Western.

Portions of the piece, featuring live music played onstage by Beth Custer, David James and Jan Jackson, are quite funny. It also is buoyed by the appearance of Goode, an always arresting performer.

IF YOU GO

Joe Goode Performance Group

Where: Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, 700 Howard St., San Francisco

When: 8 p.m. Friday-Saturday; 7 p.m. Sunday

Tickets: $25 to $40

Contact: (415) 978-2787 or www.ybca.org

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