Goat Island

16.17.21/05 > 20:00
18/05 > 20:00*
20/05 > 20:00
English - 120' -

For their sixth creation, American company Goat Island has drawn inspiration from historical poisonings. An example is the epidemic known as St Vitus’s dance, a brain lesion causing agitation and involuntary movement. A production rehearsed over a two-year period also provides an opportunity to take stock. The Sea & Poison constructs impossible dances from impracticable and complex movements. The dancers flirt with the limits of their capabilities, between musical composition at one end and the clumsiness of a dance marathon held during the American depression at the other. There is no point in hoping the production will contain stories. Questions are raised in it, and if there are answers they are given through the body, never spoken.

Direction :

Lin Hixson

Performance :

Karen Christopher, Matthew Goulish, Mark Jeffery, Bryan Saner

Company Manager :

CJ Mitchell

Lighting design :

Rachel Shipp & Goat Island

Technical Director :

Scott Halvorsen Gillette

Assistant Director :

Jake Pankratz Saner

Clothing Design :

Cynthia J. Ashby

Music Consultation :

Smokey Hormel

Music Engineering :

Rick Peeples

Special Thanks :

Cynthia Ashby, Broadway Children's Center, Glasgow School of Art, Celia Jordan, Bob Pringle, Marlin Saner, Teresa Pankratz Saner, Wellington Avenue Church, Chantal Zakari

Supported by :

Dartington College of Arts (Devon), The Centre for Contemporary Arts (Glasgow), Illinois Arts Council, The CityArts I Program of the City of Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs, Performing Arts Chicago

Presentation :


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To the reader:

When reading these excerpts, please remember that you do not necessarily need to start at the beginning. Start anywhere. Don’t worry about reaching the end. Don’t read them all if you don’t want to.
Adapted from the introduction to a book by Matthew Goulish (member of Goat Island),
39 microlectures in proximity of performance, Routledge, NY, 2000

“We première a performance. It continues to change

because the presence of the audience makes things look different and makes you perform differently. It points us to what needs altering. To adjust the garment for a better fit on us and the viewer. Then we stop. We do not touch it again. This process usually takes a few months. The performances mark time in the life of the company. They represent our thoughts during that time. Thoughts as in thought-thoughts, impossible dance-thoughts, poisoning-thoughts, famine-thoughts, echo-thoughts, ghost-thoughts, infected-thoughts, milk-thoughts, hunger-thoughts, frog-thoughts, Hamlet-thoughts, marathon-thoughts, shrinking man-thoughts. When an event happens like September 11, the work changes. But we do not alter a thing.”
– Goat Island

John Cage

on the Freeman Etudes, 1983, quoted by Goat Island in the essay The Impossible & Poison: “These are intentionally as difficult as I can make them, because I think we’re now surrounded by very serious problems in society, and we tend to think that the situation is hopeless and that it’s just impossible to do something that will make everything turn out properly. So I think that this music, which is almost impossible, gives an instance of the practicality of the impossible.”

“For The Sea & Poison

we have researched and extracted performative material from historical poisonings — such as the choreographic epidemics known as Saint Vitus’ Dance, now believed to have been caused by the mass consumption of contaminated bread, which struck Italian villages during famine years – and from popular culture poisonings – such as the combined radiation/insecticide poisoning which causes advertising executive Scott Carey to shrink to the size of a spider in the 1951 movie The Incredible Shrinking Man. We have also set out to construct “impossible dances” from a series of unperformable individual movements, which challenge the limits of human ability, and as dance hover somewhere between musical composition and the clumsy marathon dance competitions of American depression years. The Sea & Poison combines these investigations into a layered expression of the effects of poison on the body – the social body and the individual body – and of impossibility itself.” – Goat Island

Back to where it all started:

“Bryan Saner had gotten bitten by a small creature while camping in the Grand Canyon with his wife. When he awoke the next morning, Saner found himself covered with red streaks going from his wrist to his elbow. He decided to hike as much and as hard as he could to sweat out the venom. So it started us thinking, and we remembered the tarantella – it’s a folk dance from southern Italy. When you’re bitten by the tarantula, to be cured you dance for hours and hours.” – Lin Hixson

Lin Hixson,

director of Goat Island: “I have a visual background. I like being an outside eye. My strength is spatial. The actual making of these pieces (at the rate of three times a week, during two years, more or less) happens by our group bringing in texts, gestures, music, concepts… The piece usually starts with a question or a gesture. People bring in pre-formatted responses, I mean something that can be performed, like a gesture, a song or a line… The question gives us an excuse to explore what we’re thinking.”

Matthew Goulish :

“How does the dream divide from the body? How does the body divide from the dream? I can’t answer. But as a performer, I know that I have my own body dreams, and the bodies of others and the dreams of others. In order to continue, I need them all.” (Matthew Goulish, 39 microlectures in proximity of performance, Routledge, NY, 2000)

Tim Etchells,

, member of Forced Entertainment (see p. 47), on the distinction between the audience as spectator and the audience as witness: “It’s a distinction I come back to again and again and one which contemporary performance dwells on endlessly because to witness an event is to be present at it in some fundamentally ethical way, to feel the weight of things and one’s own place in them, even if that place is simply, for the moment, as an onlooker. The struggle to produce witnesses rather than spectators is present everywhere in the contemporary performance scene. You can see it in events in which extreme versions of the body in pain, in sexual play and in shock demand repeatedly of those watching – ‘be here, be here, be here…’ You can see it in much milder work too, and sometimes more clearly. (…) by the US group Goat Island, whose physical vocabulary (of school gym class, nervous ticks, sports moves and intimate gestures) is itself a kind of witnessing – a writing of cultural biography in neglected physicality.” (Tim Etchells, Certain Fragments, Routledge, London, 1999)

“The group in 1987 searched for a name

A friend said, “Why don’t you call yourselves Goat Island?” The group said, “Yes”. Now people send us postcards of Goat Islands from all over the world.” – Goat Island

Part of Goat Island’s mission

lies in the community. They work in a community centre which houses The Broadway Children’s Center and the Chicago Gay and Lesbian Task Force. Education also features when they go on tour in the workshops and discussions that are held alongside performances when possible.

“We are a group

that works collaboratively. We all have input, as it goes along, we all have a hand in shaping the piece.” – Karen Christopher, Goat Island

A dance dramaturge: “Most of the time venues are used for theatre

so why are we surprised when people look at dance like they do theatre? Audiences – poorly guided by theatre critics – look for a story where there isn’t one. Why is it necessary to seek to add on images regardless of what it costs? Why not look at the moving bodies, the energy released, the rhythms that can be heard? Look at how the dancers in Goat Island carry one another and the way they break down movement. Look at the energy coming from their bodies and that little suspension just before they fall… With Goat Island we’re closer to contemporary visual arts. We aren’t in a story, but in the making of a concept. There are companies – and this is the case with Goat Island – who are concerned with the problems of the world. Questions are asked but the answers aren’t clear. The answer which goes through the physical, the body, is never completely articulated.”

“I like the long sections

that Goat Island is so famous for. Repetitious movements are to me very meditative. And just those visuals of people moving in space over and over again saturate your mind.” – Bryan Saner, Goat Island


is the term that encompasses everything that can’t be defined as theatre, dance or sculpture. Anything that people have a question about, they say, “That must be performance,” and so that’s what we are. We don’t think a lot about what we are, we just do it. I would say that 80% of what we are doing in Goat Island is imitating something or someone. It’s a lot like children do, they see a movie that they really like, they go home and replay parts of it.” – Matthew Goulish, Goat Island

Characteristically Goat Island attempts to establish a spatial relationship

with audiences, other than the usual proscenium theatre situation. They perform a personal vocabulary of movement, both dance-like and pedestrian, that often makes physical demands on the performers. They incorporate historical and contemporary issues through text and movement, and hold their performances in non-theatrical venues when possible.

“We claim ourselves to be the legacy of:

Phantom childhoods, Japanese ghosts, frogs, Judson Church, Impossibility, General Motor Corporation, Pina Bausch, Conlon Nancarrow, St. Vitus Dance, poor soil, air raids, John Cage, Scott Carey in The Incredible Shrinking Man, Godard, The Little Bear.” – Goat Island

Excerpts from the writings of Goat Island and the American Public television documentaryA world of art, works in progress.

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