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Joe Goode's astonishing "Deeply There" had the power to alter the most deeply held preconceptions.

What Art Does Best

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Those of us with the misfortune of losing a loved one know well the power of death. The event rips open routines and ushers in a rush of raw emotions. Consequent grieving may last months or, in many cases, years. Joe Goode knows grief all too well, having lost many companions over the years to AIDS. He has witnessed the suffering of those succumbing to the fatal clutches of the disease; he's also watched the pain of family and friends who continue living while mourning their loved one. In his evening-length work "Deeply There, Stories of a Neighborhood," Joe Goode Dance Company investigates death and grief and our reluctance to discuss either. He looks squarely at this fearful stage of life, presenting a work that is surprisingly not glum, but astoundingly joyful, tender, and, at times, hilarious. A colorful and contentious crew of characters peopled his unforgettable musical dance theater, which played at the Carpenter Center for the Performing Arts March 3. His characters were drawn from the neighborhood where he's lived for the past 20 years, San Francisco's Castro District, known for its sizeable gay population. Goode played the lover of his dying partner, Ben, whose bed we see, but never his person. Alongside his loyal dog, Ben receives visits from his homophobic sister, a lesbian mother and a chipper neighborhood transvestite. All get along with the exception of the sister, who adamantly maintains her moral high ground until Ben dies. Then she gets drunk. Death and grief, she soon learns, discriminate against no one. They are, as Goode says, the "great equalizing experience." The story is forwarded through a seamless blend of dialogue, song and dance. Each form of expression evolves smoothly from the other, so that word abstracting into movement or into song seems natural, almost ordinary. The drooping head and quick wagging of Marit Brook-Kothlow, playing the part of the dog, capture the pet's reactions perfectly. With every cast member, character develops through what is said and by what is danced — moments that are poignant, antagonistic and downright humorous. One of the funniest and most memorable scenes occurs when Imelda the transvestite, played by Vong Phrommala, appears dressed in Jackie Onassis garb, a '60s pillbox hat and matching suit. One of a series of audacious outfits, her dress provokes a brief chuckle. But Goode takes the scene further; Imelda not only breaks out into a lighthearted Jackie O song and dance but is joined by a host of similarly clad Jackie O look-alikes. The risk of taking on somber topics such as death, loss and AIDS is overdoing sentimentality, moralizing or sending an audience home gloomy. Goode avoids saccharine sentiments and superficiality, unearthing instead heartening humanity. His scenes provoke genuine laughter and sympathy. On top of this, he strikes a fine balance between dance and gesture, skillfully blurring boundaries between the ordinary and the artful. He gets us to look at death, portrayed here as an empty bed and curtains blowing in the wind — beautiful yet barren — but he doesn't hold us there. If there's any tragedy to this show, it's that the run lasted only one night, preventing many from sharing their delight with others. Word of mouth alone would have filled the house for a second show. Goode's "Deeply There" stands out from other impressive works of both local and visiting artists who have appeared in Richmond during the past year. Parson Dance Company created startling illusions with lighting. Sara Pearson and Patrik Widrig cleverly used props: 300 oranges, two knifes and a rug. Without props or scenery, Noche Flamenco, with its fiery dancing and music and casual banter, conjured up village life. Starr Foster blended high-speed motion with quirky pauses in "Cycles of Collapse." The Richmond Ballet brought in Colin Connor for yet another exciting new work, "Vestiges." Fast Forward's Marie Chouin ard impressed with her otherworldliness. Some fine performances, for sure. But Goode's musical dance theater accomplished what art does best, getting us to think and to feel differently, and ensuring that we remember. His entertaining and compelling work profoundly moves whatever preconceptions we might have had about death into something lighter and giddy, yet no less

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