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Wednesday, November 09, 2005
By Holly Johnson

Goodman is precise yet tender

Dance can be so rich, so compressed, that 45 minutes' worth sometimes equals a long evening of narrative theater.

So it is with Keith Goodman's new short work, "Domain," presented by Sowelu Ensemble and Creative Enterprise. The dancer/choreographer, who is the artistic director of Dance Gatherer, offers a highly abstract portrait of two men who influenced his early life and his ideas "about what it means to prosper (or not) as an African American male in the U.S."

The piece, danced by Goodman, Joaquin Lopez and David Oury, has a sense of angularity and solidity. Yet tenderness lies obliquely at its center.

Precision is vital to Goodman, whether it's the placement of a hand, a quick turn or the sudden lifting of the head. Lopez and Oury frequently dance and interact as a pair, serving as background decoration one moment and becoming central in the next as the sound accompaniment shifts from temple gongs into driving jazz. Goodman's soft-spoken narrative gives some information about his subject, but it's insubstantial. Our imaginations do the work.

This season, Sowelu presents three short runs of dance, music and drama, of which Goodman's concert is the first.

November 18, 2004
Toussaint Perrault

Sowelu Theater performs a two channel ritual in honor of Megan Terry, the godmother of avant garde theater and playwright laureate of the '70s feminist movement. Here, Terry's strange gaze into power and manipulation is performed twice, the first with all female actors and the second with an all male cast. Directors Julie Akers and Barry Hunt are also assigned to their respective sides of the church, and stage two completely unique versions, like heads and tails on a lucky penny. Watching the two performances in a row is essentially like watching Gender herself/himself put on a one-man/woman show.

While Akers' cast are performing as male characters caged in a prison, they still appear as devil's daughters, as wholly feminine expressions of the darker quarters of the soul. The brilliant Lorraine Bahr is a butch alpha male, Jaden Fooks is the sad second banana, and doppelgangers Jenni Green and Val Landrum share the part of Gregory, a strange halved man. The prisoners appear in desert fatigues and play fight with imagined machine guns. The backdrop of an Iraqi prison camp was also used in Portland Center Stage's production of King Lear, borrowing from images of Abu Ghraib. Where PCS's allusion to the war crimes in Iraq seemed like self important gesture in a season of political crassness, Sowelu's experiment seems more justified in its sincerity and guts. The women of Aker's piece enact a morality tale sprinkled with night terrors, a pregnant actor wielding a plastic penis like a dowser's wand (no doubt a first and a last for local theater), and a rear-projected domestic poltergeist.

Barry Hunt's male chapter seems to run faster through Terry's play, and the actors perform as athletes with Keith Goodman's choreography really making the most indelible impression. Joaquin Lopez, Jeb Pearson, and Jared Roylance are a three-part harmony of desperation, and muster their charms and masculine wiles for the benefit of the audience. The actors are Machiavellian vaudevillians, calling on the great prison drama canon from Jean Genet to Grand Illusion to Kiss of the Spider Woman.

July 12, 2002
By Catherine Thomas, Special to The Oregonian

Goodman celebrates pure movement

Intensely rhythmic and deeply ritualistic, local choreographer Keith Goodman's latest concert of dance works is a heady blend of Goodman's signature Afro-Caribbean-meets-modern-dance movement style: undulating samba-styled body riffs, space-grabbing lifts, flashy peacock struts, and the rapid-fire combat kinetics of capoeira, a centuries-old Brazilian martial art/dance hybrid developed by African slaves, all set to the pounding percussion of onstage drummers and the ambient drones of musicians on didgeridoo, conch shells and Brazilian agogo bells.

Danced by the nine versatile movers of Goodman's company Dance Gatherer -- in addition to Goodman, the company includes Jesse Berdine, Jen Hong, Nicolo Kerwald, Scott Johnson, David Oury, Nicole Sanson, Shelly Stephenson and Nichole Stewart -- the program's four dance works mark a clear departure from Goodman's theatrically based work. While the new focus on pure movement highlights Goodman's extreme shifts of tempo and dense layering of movement styles, not to mention his dancers' muscularity, Goodman's trademark sense of ceremony is evident throughout.

"Three Fathers," a meditative work Goodman choreographed in 1997, draws on the Orisha dances of the African Condomble religion in a demanding series of combinations that move from dancers clustered in frozen shoulder stands to tango-esque duets to whipped-out backsprings. Capoeirista Nicolo Kerwald is the wild card windmilling through the group, his legs lashing in rapier roundhouse kicks that graze over the heads of the posed dancers.

Where "Three Fathers" suggests a community ritual, "Impermanence," choreographed in 2000, deals with the theme of oppression in a violent throw-down between Goodman and dancer-drummer Jesse Berdine. Kept tense by insistent, accelerating drum trills and sharp stabs of percussion and movement, the piece casts Berdine as a ruthless physical aggressor, stalking Goodman through the crowd and hurling him in exhaustive assaults. Stylized tangles between Berdine and other dancers push the tension of the work, and Goodman's spare use of gesture speaks volumes about fraternity in the face of persecution.

Two new works round out the program. "Marooned in Innocence," set to Goodman's field recordings of Conjunto Pirajai, a percussion ensemble from Salvador, Bahia, Brazil, presents a baptism-inflected vision of a utopian village, filled with robust rhythms, angular modern dance leaps, gymnastic duets and distinctive solos.

Guest dancer Kimberly Mullen joins the program's finale, "Tempo," a free-flowing merge of funk, hip-hop and body percussion that busts loose a flurry of intricate rhythms.

July 18, 2002
By Justin Sanders

Marooned In Innocence

The dancers in the group Dance Gatherer are some of the most graceful and athletic that Portland has to offer. Their seemingly endless energy and charisma keeps the viewer riveted, with choreography by Keith Goodman that is provocative at best, and inconsistent at worst. The show's first piece, "Three Fathers," quickly establishes the group's technical prowess, though it may be too technical. A forming of the group into three sub-groups feels like an excuse to show the dancers standing on their heads in different ways, instead of an inspired bit of choreography. It is a thrill to see dancers like Jesse Berdine and Jen Hong perform such feats, and the piece does get more interesting when the groups break up so that individuals can careen haphazardly around the space. But this conceptual grounding is still pretty weak, especially when compared to the piece that follows: Impermanence.

Impermanence is an explosion. Sultry and spiritual, it features an epic battle between good and evil set to the driving beat of an all-boy percussion band. Why Goodman chose to make the band all boys (the oldest is probably 13; the youngest, perhaps 7) is a mystery. Maybe it's just because they are good at what they do; their drumming provides a stellar soundtrack to the conflict that unfolds between Goodman's unassuming everyman character and Berdine's dark villain. Berdine's presence in all the pieces is large, but here he is especially memorable. He stalks Goodman about the space, his face never changing, his body fluid and powerful. Only with the help of the other dancers does Goodman finally ward of his advances, and even then the future seems treacherous. The final image, with Berdine glowering in a fading light on one side of the space, and Goodman and co. standing on the other side, cautiously defiant, is both frightening and gorgeous.

The second half of the show never quite lives up to that moment, though it is still impressive in its own right. The title piece, Marooned In Innocence, is a much lighter affair, with dancers flitting about like birds in an arboretum. Goodman again plays a Christ-like character, leading the group into the utopic space, then, interestingly, leaving them for nearly 20 minutes so they can dance on their own. The piece is way too long, but the skill of the company keeps it compelling. They are always moving, throwing themselves through all kinds of difficult moves and positions without ever tiring. Their energy extends all the way through the final dance, Tempo, which is really nothing more than a series of ideas that Goodman couldn't work into Innocence. The piece is neat because the dancers get to show off what is unique about their own style, by taking turns slamming out beats by stomping, clapping, and snapping. Tempo is louder, faster, and easier than the preceding acts--it's kind of like if Brittany Spears came out to conclude a Phillip Glass concert. It doesn't really fit, but then it's hard to tell if anything really fits into Goodman's colorful parade, where thematic continuity has been drowned in a flood of mesmerizing exuberance.