When I think of Miguel Gutierrez, my stomach gets gushy--he is a man who invites hugging. I had the pleasure of seeing Miguel Gutierrez and the Powerful People (MGPP) one time before last night's collaborative performance at the ICA. This was in 2007 in Burlington VT when MGPP performed Retrospective Exhibitionist and Difficult Bodies. As a recent college graduate with one dance constructed (naively) and little exposure to dance that struck me as authentic or moving, I was deeply impressed. The space was intimate, Mr. Gutierrez was making eye-contact and the piece was deeply personal and fairly explicit. I giggled. Later I cried. After the performance, I felt nervous and giddy like a new romance. It was the most profound dance experience of my life.
After that, very little has lived up. I've made dances, which I rarely like in retrospect and I've seen dances, which I almost never like at all. So, when I saw that MGPP would be performing at the ICA, I was thrilled, and when I saw that Mr. Gutierrez would be collaborating with Jenny Holzer, whose projected installations, which create worlds of words (what could be better!?) to inhabit, and whose work I'd seen at MASS MOCA, I was intrigued.
But when I realized that the concert had sold out, I worried--had Miguel "sold-out" too?
Shame on me for even thinking of that. While the show (put together mostly through email in a short (and Mr. Gutierrez emphasized, SHORT) period of time) was not perfect, it was clear that the motivations and methods underlying his work were still present.
After a discussion between the artists and Richard Colton (a precontextualization, which is probably much more fruitful than the ubiquitous "talk-back"--bravo ICA!) the shades came down in the performance space, which is mostly glass and overlooks the harbor. The dance, I Say the Word, began with all the lights on. Mr. Gutierrez entered the space, came as far downstage as possible and began to shake. Earlier, Mr. Gutierrez had spoken of the politics of dance--the body that one chooses to show and the way one shows that body is a political action. The politics of standing in short cotton shorts and a tee shirt and shaking so that the belly jiggles are, in the world of dance, volatile ones. Shaking intensely, Mr. Gutierrez addressed his audience. The text in the piece was from Arno by Jenny Holzer, while her projected text was by the poet, Wislawa Szymborska, as were the thematic seeds for the entire presentation. The dance especially pulled from the poem, Life While You Wait, which compares life to a play that we cannot rehearse for, and which is dreadfully important.
As Mr. Gutierrez addressed the audience, he was joined by a cast of Miguel Gutierrez impersonators--9 dancers in bandannas and mustaches, tattoos and sleeveless, sloganed tees moved in close to him and began to shake. Then they laughed, hard.
Thus the ride began, and it was wild. The dancers with all their bodies (let's talk about the politics in this piece...but only when we have a lot of time) filled the space. Shifting, walking, running and occasionally personal "freak outs" of improvisation were the most common movement motifs. The simplicity of the movement in shifting patterns with small variations was never dull, because the audience was looking at the expressive faces or reading the silly tee shirts and feeling caught up in the small dramas (a dancer steps on something sharp, removes it from the performance space while the other dancers talk about it and make sure he is ok).
Later, Mr. Gutierrez shows his skill at building layers over time. As a sound artist, he often works with a looper pedal, building layers of sound and language until he creates a rich and musical score. In much the same way, he slowly built up the sound of dancers speaking by adding them cumulatively into the space. In this environment of several dancers, shifting in the space while speaking more (beautiful) text from Arno, he added the layer of a beautiful duet between himself and another male dancer. This was the high point of the piece for me. The duet reminded me of the awkwardness of first touches. The partnering was sincere and tender, with moments of effort and release. It was heart rending and lovely. As they broke apart the dancers began to walk organizing themselves into lines while dropping the text. One dancer was laughing; it turns out she knew what was up. The next section included some of the most fantastic kitsch dance I've ever seen to KC and the Sunshine Band. Thus Mr. Gutierrez fulfilled my expectations: he made me cry and laugh. With all of this happening, I barely had a chance to wonder where the projected installation played into the piece...
The running section that followed felt aimless and too long, but the standing close to the audience in the darkness while breathing heavily felt right. Then the blinds lifted and the words of Wislawa Szymborska enveloped the space from the outside (the projectors were pointing at the outside of the building). Here, Mr. Gutierrez chose the simplest methods of showing the projection by moving his dancers through the space in a line and alternately being projected on, or breaking the projection with shadows. The dancers turned to each wall and looked--looking at the audience and then, looking at the audience that had formed outside the windows. It took me some time to realize that the installation had been running for the entire time the shades had been drawn and this was why a crowd had gathered outside, just in time to see and be seen by MGPP.
With that realization and the satisfying quiet ending (the dancers left the space and a voice stated, "The performance is now over. Please feel free to stay in the theater.") I felt that the collaborative piece was complete. Much as in life, the dance fulfilled itself as best it could. It was enough, and then it was over.
- Wislawa Szymborska
Performance without rehearsal.
Body without alterations.
Head without premeditation.
I know nothing of the role I play.
I only know it’s mine. I can’t exchange it.
I have to guess on the spot
just what this play’s all about.
Ill-prepared for the privilege of living,
I can barely keep up with the pace that the action demands.
I improvise, although I loathe improvisation.
I trip at every step over my own ignorance.
I can’t conceal my hayseed manners.
My instincts are for happy histrionics.
Stage fright makes excuses for me, which humiliate me more.
Extenuating circumstances strike me as cruel.
Words and impulses you can’t take back,
stars you’ll never get counted,
your character like a raincoat you button on the run –
the pitiful results of all this unexpectedness.
If only I could just rehearse one Wednesday in advance,
or repeat a single Thursday that has passed!
But here comes Friday with a script I haven’t seen.
Is it fair, I ask
(my voice a little hoarse,
since I couldn’t even clear my throat offstage).
You’d be wrong to think that it’s just a slapdash quiz
taken in makeshift accommodations. Oh no.
I’m standing on the set and I see how strong it is.
The props are surprisingly precise.
The machine rotating the stage has been around even longer.
The farthest galaxies have been turned on.
Oh no, there’s no question, this must be the premiere.
And whatever I do
will become forever what I’ve done.