Thursday, July 29, 2010

Ironic Moustachios and Sincere Sentiment: Miguel Gutierrez and Jenny Holzer at ICA

The following is a review of the collaborative work of Miguel Gutierrez and Jenny Holzer at the Institute of Contemporary Art in Boston, 7/28/10.

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.

Life While-You-Wait

- Wislawa Szymborska

Life While-You-Wait.

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.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Dirt: this is my body

In preparation for A Sense of Place: Celebrating a Creative Community, I've been working on a duet that explores the concept of body as home. In collaboration with Carrie Kidd, I've created a dialogue between my dancers using free associated text about the cliche "home is where the heart is".

Please come to A Sense of Place in Robin Hood Park, Keene NH on Saturday July 24th at 6pm to see my piece and the work of Angie Muzzy, Becky Midler, Michael Soldati, Paula Aarons and Stephanie Ritchie-Logan.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

"Making a decision is an act of violence."

In her chapter on Violence in "A Director Prepares: seven essays on art and theater", Ann Bogart explains the painful and necessary act of making choices. Parts of which are available here:

Exhibit A

This came to mind sharply recently when I went to see a dance performance and wrote a criticism of the show. I'm still debating whether to include the review in this blog and it was not printed in the local newspaper, but I did show it to one of the choreographers (henceforth known as "Exhibit A"). The way I wrote of Exhibit A's work, apparently offended her, and the surprise at that realization led me to questioning what I value in dance and what the disconnect between our views might be.

One comment I made about this Exhibit A's piece was,
"I found the movement invention interesting, but I sometimes felt the transitions were unmotivated and unclear. "

Exhibit A was surprised at the criticism given that I liked the piece. My criticism, which I frequently have with dance, is that movement choices are arbitrary or appear so to the audience. When I discussed Exhibit A's work with her, I began to understand the dissonance I had felt watching the piece. The process of inquiry seemed to be missing from the choreography. Although Exhibit A thought she had made choices, really she had chosen one choice out of one. She did not inquire about further possibilities. Her choices were arbitrary. For me then, her work lacked the "violence", the tension that draws one in, the feeling that every moment is worthy of attention.
The choreographer wants me to pay attention to and care about something that they have not paid attention to...expletive, expletive, grumble.
One part of Exhibit A's piece I had questioned was a repeated motif of walking to a new section of the stage and then "doing something" (gestural movement). The dance consisted of a pattern (walk, do something, walk, do something). I asked Exhibit A "why?" (apparently a confrontational question!) She stated that she liked pedestrian movement. During our conversation I didn't say (but I'm saying now), "There are many movements I like. They do not always make it into my pieces." There were many movements in her piece that I liked in and of themselves, but in the context of a piece with a powerful motivating inspiration, unmotivated walking seemed a questionable choice, which I came to believe was actually a lack of choice altogether.

Unfortunately, Exhibit A is the norm, not the exception. What I've realized is that artists often think that they can simply allow inspiration to strike, and they don't like to evaluate their work. In addition, they tend to become attached to their ideas. Instead of using a process to choreograph, they accept the first answer they stumble across. As an audience member, I can only forget the process when it is clearly in place and respected by the choreographer. Like a good novel or good scientific article, good choreography can be evaluated using the Intellectual Standards of Critical Thinking. Many of us use these standards without consciously thinking of it, but in some, because it has never become transparent, they skip steps and then those skills atrophy through under-use. Because no decisions have been made and the piece has not been held up to inquiry, the best choices exist in the ether where none of us get to enjoy them.

Friday, May 7, 2010

"Strings Attached: An Experiment in Connection"

Strings Attached: An Experiment in Connection
May 19, 8pm at TSA Collective
$5 donation

“…interaction should consist of bidirectional communication, and can have no predetermined outcome if the interactors are genuinely engaged in the exchange of information/experience.” Sita Popat

Strings Attached is an interactive performance choreographed and performed by Cindi L’Abbe. The piece explores the roles of audience, director and performer through modes of audience participation, choreographed structure and improvisation. Soundscore will be provided by Ian Logan and David Ross. The performance will be followed by a panel discussion moderated by Laina Barakat.
The panel includes Cindi L’Abbe, Ian Logan (of Sisters and Brothers) and Cathy Nicoli (dance faculty at Keene State College).

What’s the point?
To allow audience members to “enter” a dance by interacting and directing the performance
To explore the concept of communication through a dance conversation using words and physical strings
To illustrate the connected-ness of human beings through invisible and visible threads
To create interactive art as a demonstration of the creative potential of audiences as well as performance, to democratize the dance

What are we talking about?
Interactive elements in performance art as methods of creating audience “connection”, relevance
Improvisation as conversation, performance as communication
The performing arts as an illustration of humanity

Sunday, January 24, 2010

My Work for the Concert...Flowers I'm Playing With

100 Flowers: Dances Inspired by the Work of Georgia O’Keefe

Saturday Jan 30, 7pm and Sunday Jan 31, 4pm

At the Stone Church on Main St, Brattleboro, VT


Jack-in-the-Pulpit Series:

#1 Jack-in-the-Pulpit Abstraction

#2 Jack-in(and out of)-the-Pulpit

#3 the jack in the pulpit is a broken flower

Choreography: Cindi L’Abbe

Performance: Cindi L’Abbe, Angie Muzzy & Tammi Squires

Music: Heysátan (Sigur Rós), Superstar (Sonic Youth) & Why Don’t We Do It in the Road? (The Beatles)

ballet skirt or electric light

Choreography & Performance: Cindi L’Abbe

Music: And the birds are about to bus (Set Fire to Flames)

Saturday, January 23, 2010

100 Flowers





Saturday January 30th at 7pm

Sunday January 31st at 4pm

At the Stone Church on Main St. in Brattleboro

For more information call 802 348 6699 or email

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Making Movement: Part 1

On January 20th I presented a Creative Movement Workshop at The Starving Artist, hosted by Impetus Dance Collective. This workshop was part of a regular series, taught by different artists on the third Wednesday of every month at 8pm.

During my workshop I presented a snapshot of several tools for creating dance. by the end of the 1hr class (just one!) the participants had created solo dances that were visually compelling and complete. They moved through several levels of composition in the short period of time and were able to experience these levels in a connected way, which is uncommon in expanded time (often it is difficult to recognize that after weeks of phrase-making we've shifted into shaping the arc of the piece or editing).

Because these tools are useful for all dance-makers, I'm sharing them here. I'll just describe the way we used them in the workshop and share some ideas for alternative approaches. Most of these methods can be adapted for a wide range of purposes. I'm going to write this in sections, so be alert!

1. Phrase-making:

This collaborative phrase-making game (adapted from Liz Lerman's toolbox) warmed us up, and took away some of the stress of making a dance "from scratch".

In the workshop, we stood facing center and I made a movement, saying "One. This is movement number one of an eight-count phrase; what is movement number two?" Taking turns we each added a beat to the eight count phrase until it was complete.

Part of the purpose of this activity is to use speed to bypass our internal editor. There is some amount of pressure to create a movement quickly. There are no wrong answers and the phrase often is pretty interesting and danceable by just about anyone.

The phrase-making game can be adapted by adding text and creating a movement for each word. It can be used by a solo dance maker to bypass that internal censor in the early stages of choreography (e.g. "I'm making and 8 count phrase. Go! 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8!). It can also be used in a technique class as a method of increasing our movement memory by making it into an accumulation phrase. (This could also be combined with learning people's names).

For the purpose of our workshop, phrase-making expanded the warm-up, created a sense of community, jump-started our movement making skills and provided the initial "seed" for our dances.