Every once in a while dance critics are overcome with a strange affliction. Suddenly they cease their wincing, eye rolling, annoyed scribbling and artistic quibbling. Sometimes a performance is alluring enough to pull them in and they become part of an audience that’s raptly engaged. HUSH, Joe Goode’s latest production, isn’t perfect but on many levels it is a huge step above last season’s When We Fall Apart. And yes, I really enjoyed parts of it.
Goode has a perennial fondness for using words in a narrative way and in songs sung by the performers. I’m of the persuasion that words should be used more like poetry, to suggest color, texture, emotion without being a blow-by-blow description of the story.
Picasso said, “Art is the elimination of the unnecessary” and for me, if the plot can be made clear with only the movement – then get rid of the words. For once, the threads of the three stories are told in fragments, leaving us anxiously waiting to find out what happens next while listening to another character’s difficulties. Not only are the three narratives skillfully interwoven, but all the elements of choreography, music, lighting and stage design come together as well.
Bert (Melecio Estrella), a gay virgin struggling to leave his self-imposed asexuality behind, finally connects with Carlos (Felipe Barrueto-Cabello). Penny (Damara Vita Ganley), who works as a barmaid and singer, is viciously gang-raped late one night while walking home. A mismatched couple (Jessica Swanson and Andrew Ward) provide comic relief with their out-of-whack exchanges between a workaholic yuppie and her unemployed live-in boyfriend. Sensitive acting and nuanced dancing by the entire cast contribute immensely to the production.
The use of sound effects, created live by Sudhu Tewari, is a brilliant conceit which evokes the days of radio plays. Usually off in the corner at the back of the stage, Tewari sloshes water from one glass to another when the bartender is poring drinks, and knocks on a piece of wood while the women strut across stage in their high heels.
The two main weaknesses could be remedied quite easily. The most serious problem is the handling of the rape scene and its aftermath. The choreography of the assault itself is devoid of any graphic representation of violence. Penny is lifted and manipulated but with no suggestion of the brutality needed to devastate her emotionally and physically. Viewers should feel like their guts are being twisted. Only when the audience is subjected to Penny’s horrific violation can it begin to understand the abyss she must crawl out of. In HUSH, her healing is far too lightweight. Experiences like this are very difficult to recover from, if she could ever recover completely at all. Over the years Goode has always shied away from grappling with deeper damage and optimistically allows for everything to be cured with humor. The piece would be much stronger in acknowledging that some things cannot be fixed. One way would be to cut both the last duet sung by Bert and Penny and the overly-long dance finale. It reads like the frivolous ending to a Broadway musical when instead a deeply touching look at Penny’s pain and her long road ahead would be far more fitting.