‘Wonderboy’ comes to Edison Feb. 20-21

Superpowers aren’t all they’re cracked up to be.

Courtesy Photo

The three-foot-tall wooden hero and title character “Wonderboy” will be on stage Feb. 20 and 21.

Take “Wonderboy,” the new collaboration by San Francisco choreographer Joe Goode and master puppeteer Basil Twist. Blessed with uncanny empathy and superhuman sensitivity, the title character is virtually paralyzed by everyday sights and sounds — the clash of bells, the glare of sunlight, a young man passing on the street.

Yet “Wonderboy” is not without resources, nor without courage. The three-foot-tall wooden hero can be seen at 8 p.m. Feb. 20 and 21 when the Joe Goode Performance Group brings “Wonderboy” to St. Louis as part of the Edison Theatre OVATIONS Series.

Goode is among the most innovative and original choreographers working in American dance theater.

His performance group, launched in 1986, combines traditional dance movement with spoken word, song, visual imagery and sculptural props. Major works range from the Bessie Award-winning “Deeply There (stories of a neighborhood)” (1998), which explores the havoc of the AIDS epidemic, to “Mythic, Montana” (2002), an American take on Greek mythology, and “Stay Together” (2006), about the difficulties of maintaining relationships in a world that moves too fast.

Goode met Twist — a San Francisco native now based in New York — in 2006, on the set of Paula Vogel’s acclaimed drama “The Long Christmas Ride Home.” Twist, who was directing the play for San Francisco’s Magic Theatre, enlisted Goode to choreograph a short dance sequence. The pair hit it off and began planning a longer collaboration.

The result is “Wonderboy,” a tender coming-of-age story that explores the ways in which outsiders forge communities and lives of their own. As the piece begins, Wonderboy sits perched above the stage in a window frame, from which he sees, hears and feels entirely too much. Gradually he finds the strength to venture outside and connect with others, encountering rage and rejection — a cheerleader’s taunts, a gender-bending solo about sexual intimidation — yet also discovers acceptance and even love.

“I want to pierce the veil of toughness that we all have in our lives and to uncover the vulnerable center, the confused, flailing human part of us that we conceal and avoid,” Goode said of his work. “I want to make ‘human scale’ dances. By human in scale — I mean placing the emphasis on the unglamorized body — the body in more intimate moments, when it is fallible or agitated or inept.”

The staging is reminiscent of Japanese bunraku puppetry, in which both puppet and puppeteers are visible to the audience. Six dancers — Mark Stuver, Melecio Estrella, Jessica Swanson, Andrew Ward, Patricia West and Alexander Zendzian — take turns manipulating Wonderboy, whose monologues frequently quote literary “wonderboys” such as Sam Shepard, Thom Gunn, Chris-topher Isherwood and Jiddu Krishnamurti. The original music is by singer/violinist Carla Kihlstedt and pianist/drummer Matthias Bossi.

Twist is perhaps best known for his long-running, Obie Award-winning “Symphonie Fantastique” (1998), a tour-de-force of underwater puppetry set to the music of Hector Berlioz. Other works include ingenious re-creations of two classic puppet operas: “Master Peter’s Puppet Show” (2002) by Manuel De Falla and “La Bella Dormente Nel Bosco (Sleeping Beauty in the Woods)” (2005) by Ottorino Respighi.

Recent pieces include “Hansel and Gretel,” a 2006 commission from The Houston Grand Opera and The Atlanta Opera; and “Arias with a Twist,” a new collaboration with drag queen Joey Arias, which debuted in June 2008.

Tickets — $20 for students and children; $28 for seniors, faculty and staff; and $32 for the public — are available at the Edison Theatre Box Office and through all MetroTix outlets.

For more information, call 935-6543 or e-mail Edison@wustl.edu.