Music theater is in Michael Tilson Thomas' blood, stemming from a
heritage possibly going back several generations before his famous
grandfather, Boris Thomashefsky. Music theater, in the form of opera,
is an MTT forte, even if that's not fully appreciated yet, as relatively
few have heard him conduct in the genre. But in the adjacent world of
dance, MTT has not made his mark. Sorry to say, that's true even after
his debut tonight as the composer for a dance piece.
His sub-minimalist contribution to the opening of the Joe Goode Performance
Group's 20th season in the Yerba Buena Theater was meager in quantity
and quality - even if the publicity about the MTT-Goode collaboration
helped a good cause.
"Sub-minimalist" is not a value judgement; it's a statement of fact.
For all but the finale of the 40-minute "Stay Together," there was *no*
music beyond a few disjointed chords, a percussive note here and there,
and meager, unimportant sound effects. Were you not apprised of the MTT
connection, you'd never peruse the program, looking for the composer,
so peripheral, almost imperceptible was the "music." Something slightly
different occurred during the last 5-6 minutes, when a tentative jazz
riff, a compulsive marimba ostinato accompanied the dance. Too little,
too late to qualify for a true Opus One.
The work itself, of course, is another story. Both typical and best-ever,
"Stay Together" is Goode's usual multimedia expression of hilarious
angst, a wonderfully entertaining piece about the issues of staying
together vs. falling apart or being alone. Against Erik Flatmo's
Rotko-inspired set, Austin Forbord videography mixes live and taped
images, the performers reciting (and "dancing out") Goode's text in
mesmerizing, dramatic, and utterly funny close-ups.
"Art is so much more difficult than life," it is stated, with self-mocking
anguish. Stay together or do the "big maybe"? "Crying" is rhymed,
so to speak, with "why-ing," and somebody suspiciously similar to the
choreographer is accused of "employing in the company everybody you ever
The company's dancers-actors-reciters-film stars are brilliant, and Goode
himself has become a Chaplin, a Bob Hope, a Robin Williams in his ability
to make an impact even while doing nothing. Most anyone else as uniquely
quirky as Goode would easily become his own caricature during a 20-year
run, but this man keeps getting more and more out of material that's
modest but authoritative. He just needs another composer, one with more
notes, at the very least.
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