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Performing Art

Powerful Connections Through Body and Soul

In an effort to help viewers 'get' dance, Karen Goodman brings her new solo piece closer to the people.

October 08, 2000|JENNIFER FISHER | Jennifer Fisher is a regular contributor to Calendar

Like many modern dancer-choreographers, Karen Goodman meets a lot of people who tell her they don't really "get" dance. "They want to know what's it for," she says, or, more often, are indifferent to the topic. Goodman wants to change that.

"I meet people at parties, and the comment I always get is, 'Oh, you're a dancer.' " A frozen look comes over her face to illustrate the expression. "Then I get a once-over from top to toe, and they say, 'Oh, well, I guess it keeps you in really good shape.' End of conversation."

Nevertheless, the veteran L.A.-based dance maker is still enthusiastic about the potential of her art form to communicate. And if encouragement hasn't always come from casual acquaintances, it has from local critics. Reviewing the solo works that Goodman has concentrated on for more than a decade, they have noted her ability to crystallize movement in boldly etched designs, calling her long limbs "fluid" and "eloquent."

They've also found vibrant rhythms in her breath sounds and footfalls, which often provide a kind of score, since Goodman prefers dancing in silence. For several solos she performed in 1999--among them, the evocative "Crossing," a highlight of Occidental College's "Feet Speak" series--she received a Lester Horton award for outstanding individual performance.

Still, Goodman, 52, worries about the fact that, in general, dance seems to get more attention when it's used in television ads to sell khakis (in Gap commercials) or in political campaigns (picture the Democrats bonding over the macarena).

"It's all about being physical, about being active," she says, her earnest, pale face framed by a fringe of ultra-short, inky black hair. "If you wear Gap clothes and dance, that's how fabulous you will be. The implication is right on, in the sense of that connection with your physical self.

"You get body and soul together in dance. Those commercials are the cheap version of that, but that's still the right direction."

Goodman muses about this and other topics, ranging from the manifestations of dance in the Torah to the idea of dance as an Olympic sport, in her latest solo work, "Close Dancing." It premieres next Sunday at the Luckman Fine Arts Complex, as the inaugural entry in a series called Intimate Encounters. (Other entries in the series have yet to be announced.)

Goodman's own strategy for making dancing intimate is to get more up-close-and-personal with her audience--literally. For this performance, audience members will by-pass their usual assigned seats in the house and occupy risers on three sides of the vast, unadorned stage of the Luckman. Goodman, performing at the edge of the stage with her back to the empty auditorium, will sing and speak, as well as dance.

And no, she tells everyone who warily asks, audience members won't be asked to be part of the show. Just to clap in unison at one point, to accompany her.

"I want people to come and see what the dancer's position onstage is like," Goodman says, as she prepares to run through some excerpts of the 80-minute piece at a rehearsal space near her Studio City home.

"But not only that--it's also about feeling that we're all in this together. It's going to be a very Western-civilization, modern version of this little tribe in the middle of this vast space."

Still in the polishing process of "Close Dancing" a few weeks before its premiere, Goodman mostly rehearses alone, but occasionally works with theater director Winship Cook. "She has a dance background, so that's good for me," Goodman says. "And she's given me some vocal warmup exercises, so I can improve my projection."

Goodman has a soft, intense way of speaking, with occasional words falling almost too softly to hear. But when she begins to perform, her voice is crisp and clear, with an almost military-like delivery.

The form of the piece is a monologue, but one in which Goodman riffs bodily on certain words, like "intimacy," "share" and "moving." She repeats shrugging or reaching gestures and turns a walk into a dance by carving the space with her arms and altering the pace.

Her themes are sometimes introduced with ironic, show-style singing of lines from popular songs--"It's just the nearness of you," and "Do you love me, now that I can dance?" Extended movement sections will occur intermittently during the piece.

"The movement reflects in some way or other what I'm thinking about," she says, after performing and changing from her navy tights and T-shirt into black pants and a white shirt. "And since we seem to be so word-based, I want to give the audience some of that. All the verbal stuff is what I think, how things strike me."

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