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The Ending as a Process of Beginning

Goat Island's decision to create a last performance has given rise to a series of discoveries

The performance group Goat Island has embarked upon the work of creating their last performance, appropriately titled "The Lastmaker," set to premiere in October.

Note the choice of adjective. It is not the final performance: it is not the end. It is decidedly the "the last performance."

The decision to create a last performance has given rise to a series of discoveries. Among these, the challenging, celebratory and creative nature of ending features prominently.  From its inception, Goat Island has been concerned with the community it creates. Now, as they develop their last performance, they consider how this will be "an example for younger companies of how to approach ending as positive change."

"We intend this end to present itself as a beginning," says Director and Co-founder Lin Hixson. "We end Goat Island in order to make a space for the unknown that will follow."

The process of performance

The work of Goat Island is defined by a process of collaborative creation. Hixson conceives of it within a poetic framework, explaining that it's deceptive to see it as linear. Instead, she sees the work of the group through the layers of a poetic process or through the notion of landscape painting.

The work of Goat Island has "a certain vernacular" that further defines it. It's developed through a process that is concerned with "multiplicities." As with all performances (Goat Island has created and performed eight completed works since 1987, each premiered in Chicago and toured internationally), the group began the last performance with a particular directive--in this case, to respond creatively to the architecture of the Hagia Sophia, the Istanbul building that has been a church, a mosque and finally a museum.  In residency in Croatia and lacking the funds to travel to Turkey, the members instead visited Zagreb's dzamija, a mosque turned museum. It's through the investigation and the intersection of specific ideas and "particularities"-- architectural research into "double buildings" or "spaces that have housed multiple histories" as collaborator Judd Morrissey puts it--that the group develops the performance. (Morrissey has developed an ongoing web project (www.thelastperformance.org) as a corollary to the group's work. The site features writing by invited collaborators, with a structure "based on the architecture of the dome, literally transposed.")

It's the juxtaposition of particularities--the idea of double architecture colliding with the idea of lastness, introduced in a later directive-- that suggest and become the whole. The meaning is never clear from the start, Hixson explains. Instead, it arises through the group process. She will give a directive--a specific idea--and all group members will creatively respond, presenting their responses to one another in rehearsal. The "text" of the response may be presented in the form of a written monologue, a song, a movement. As director, Hixson will sequence, edit and balance the material. While she deals with the external aspects of the work, she emphasizes that the creation is highly collaborative--"the performers have to be convinced" by what is evolving.

Performers and audience

In the same way that some may view non-linear or experimental poetry as too difficult to understand, Goat Island's work has occasionally been considered too "abstract." Hixson and Co-founder Matthew Goulish insist that this is a misunderstanding. As Goulish explains:

"Certain forms of dance, such as ballet, or theater, such as opera or Shakespearean tragedy, rely on fixed disciplines and practices... the more foreknowledge an audience member has of those traditions the greater the appreciation of the work. Because we do not rely on any fixed tradition in that way, but rather devise and structure our own vocabulary of movement and performance... our finished work is entirely transparent to an open-minded and patient audience member. No particular background or experience or knowledge is necessary to appreciate it. It is all there in front of you, built from the ground up. It's not like we're speaking a language that you need to have learned before the piece begins. The performance is the learning of the language, and we learn it together, performers and audience."

The development of this last work began in June of 2005, with a visit to the Zagreb dzamija. In June, 2006, the piece was first performed as a work-in-progress. Hixson notes that having other people witness the work furthers its creation. In many ways, the "audience completes the piece," she says. These performances are followed by a dialogue, which gives the company a chance to get outside directives and often forces the group to articulate what had been intuitively conceived. According to Hixson, the work-in-progress is a way to "stop and assess" the progress of the work.

"The Lastmaker" will premiere in Zagreb, Croatia, and a UK tour will follow. The Chicago premiere will be at the Museum of Contemporary Art in March, 2008. As member Karen Christopher put it in a recent interview, "The truth is that if people don't see Goat Island live, they are not going to see Goat Island...it's a live experience."

Published: May 28, 2007
Issue: Summer 2007 Urban Living