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Significant Others

Joe Goode Champions AIDS Caregivers in New Dance, 'Maverick Strain'


Ride off into the sunset, cowboy. Joe Goode says it's time for a new maverick.

"There are these other, really unsung people," Goode said. "They routinely encounter a reality most of us spend our lives shying away from, and they are the real mavericks. I thought I'd like to make a piece about them."

He's talking about AIDS caregivers, and the piece is "Maverick Strain," which Goode's Performance Group will present tonight at the Irvine Barclay Theatre. It will be the first time the piece has been done outside of San Francisco, where Goode is based.

"As a gay man, I've very much felt the strain of living in an AIDS culture," Goode said during a recent conversation from the University of South Florida, where he has been in residence. "With so many friends, colleagues and loved ones dying, it was a kind of a miracle when I'd meet these wonderful caregivers. They gave hours and hours of their time and made very little money and dealt with catheters and bedpans all day long.

"My goal is to make audiences look at these courageous people as a new icon. They do very emotionally taxing work. I stand in such great admiration of it."

"Maverick Strain," like Goode's other works, explores such contemporary issues as societal rootlessness, materialism and drug culture with a blend of modern dance and speech set to original music. The composer, Beth Custer, and her five-piece ensemble will play the country-music flavored score.

"Juxtaposed with this," Goode said, "is a lot of dialogue from western B-movies, like a cowboy saying 'You just gotta do what you gotta do.' "

Goode will appear as a flamboyant AIDS nurse who manages to dissuade a burned-out colleague from quitting by reminding her of the critical service she is providing. At one point, his character morphs into John Wayne--Goode's idea of the stereotypical maverick as fiercely independent loner.

"John Wayne always walks off into the sunset with his mangy dog, he rarely gets the girl, and he's fairly forlorn. In my experience, caregivers don't go home to comfortable little families in the suburbs. They've sacrificed that to do something else."


Goode added that although caregivers exemplify compassion and unselfishness--characteristics not necessarily attributed to Hollywood cowboys--the two also share an ethos that puts a premium on pursuit of individual dreams and desires. "It's an instinct that says, 'I have to do what I feel must be done, and I must follow that, I must do what I think is right.' "

He premiered "Maverick Strain" at San Francisco's cavernous Yerba Buena Gardens' Forum in May to celebrate his troupe's 10th anniversary. Before the dance began, members of the audience saw theatrical tableaux set up in the Forum: dancers posing as a couple in bed, cowboys bathing, whores in a Nevada brothel. Similar vignettes will be re-created in the Barclay lobby and just outside the theater. Goode recommends that audiences arrive by 7:45 p.m. to see them.

"The [installations] are little glimpses of some of the ideas you're going to see in the piece. It's nice to allow people to have a really intimate, close-up view of the characters or situations they'll see on stage before they get the large-scale view.

"Like all of my work, the piece looks at our culture in a critical way," Goode added, "but also in a way that realizes I'm a product of it, and I love it, ultimately. It's where I live, it's what I understand."

The homage to caregivers, as he calls it, also provides an opportunity to thank them.

"It's 15 years into the epidemic, and there are some signs of hope, but a lot of people are still in those hospices, involved in the dying process. That hasn't stopped. It's not over."

* The Joe Goode Performance Group presents "Maverick Strain" tonight at 8 at the Irvine Barclay Theatre, 4242 Campus Drive, Irvine. $22-$26. (714) 854-4646.

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