Avant-garde work set in historic house

  • by Roberto Friedman
  • Wednesday July 18, 2018
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A few years ago, Joe Goode Performance Group presented "Traveling Light" inside the cavernous spaces of the old San Francisco Mint, a piece that led the audience through that historic building to experience dance, music and storytelling in its various rooms. Goode's new world premiere "Still Standing" is an art experience in a similar vein. Out There was in the intimate audience for the piece last Saturday night, which led us through San Francisco's historic Haas-Lilienthal House during the course of the performance. It runs through Aug. 5 there.

Advance materials familiarized us with the Queen Anne-style Victorian house, built in 1886 and having recently completed a $4.3 million restoration. Designed by Peter R. Schmidt for William and Bertha Haas, progenitors of a great philanthropic San Francisco family, the house "embodies so much of San Francisco's progressive spirit of innovation and resilience. It survived the 1906 earthquake and fire, and remained in the Haas family until 1973, after which it was entrusted to San Francisco Heritage to serve as the organization's headquarters.

"Using real, written, and imagined stories from the dancers and musicians, Joe Goode explores how we find resilience, persist, and reinvent. Some of the questions Goode poses are: What do we want to become? Can we be bold enough to reinvent ourselves?" Billed as an "immersive performance," the new work features an original score by Ben Juodvalkis with additional music by Tassiana Willis, Lila Blue and Shawna Virago.

Last Saturday, the audience gathered in the Victorian mansion's ground floor rooms to divest ourselves of coats and bags, and don masquerade-style masks. We were implored to keep the masks on for the duration of the performance, and although they interfered slightly with sight-lines, the face decorations had a curious distancing effect appropriate to the atmosphere.

Goode is a choreographer, writer, and director known as an innovator for his propensity to combine movement with spoken word, song, and visual imagery, so we knew we were in for a hybrid art experience. The performers who served as our guides through the domicile offered us music, movement, origin stories and provocations. As the audience at any performance is limited to 50, the work feels radically intimate, personal. The cast was sometimes literally in our face.

It soon became clear, as we encountered performance segments set in rooms, hallways, stairwells, and outside in the back, that the mansion's very architecture was as much a part of the piece as its songs and dances. This was appropriate: the Haases, after all, were Jews who left oppression in 19th-century Europe and went West to reinvent themselves and pursue freedom. The same could be said of many of us who wind up in San Francisco and the Bay Area. "Still Standing" is a resonant and memorable performance about the adventurous, the oddball, and the restless among us, forever lighting out for the territories in new disguises.

Joe Goode Performance Group's "Still Standing" plays through Aug. 5 at the Haas-Lilienthal House, 2007 Franklin St., SF. Tickets ($45-$65, Pay What You Can at select shows): http://joegoode.org/box-office/#stillstanding, or (415) 561-6565.