writers on dancing


No Place to Hide

"Retrospective Exhibitionist" and "Difficult Bodies"
Miguel Gutierrez and the Powerful People
Dance Theater Workshop
New York, NY
December 2, 2005

by Susan Reiter
copyright ©2005 by Susan Reiter

After nearly an hour with Miguel Gutierrez, alone onstage (accompanied by a collection of props and technical equipment), how much has he revealed? He's nude at the very start, but doesn't begin to let us know who he is until he stops briskly striding across the wide-open DTW stage, setting up his equipment, slips on stretch pants and a T-shirt featuring a cartoon image, and actually faces us. Or is he revealing anything? Boyish, coy, slightly sarcastic, he holds a microphone and intones "I am Miguel Gutierrez" and asks the audience to repeat each word, and then the sentence, after him. More than a few comply. So it becomes a group exercise, but loses its meaning as a bunch of strangers casually appropriate his identity.

It's clear from the unusual design and layout of his program that Gutierrez sees and does things his own way. He eschews the usual DTW typeface and format, and includes numerous pages with lots of white space and tiny type, featuring bits of poetry, a lengthy and fascinating list of dance-world names titled "Reference Dance," and some photo images. It sort of reads back to front, with the basic program information appearing on the back—but then it doesn't really.

The program certainly plays with one's usual expectations when handed a program and using it as a means of getting one's bearings. Even with that as a warning, his performance piece was curious and unsettling. He seems to be accusing himself of exhibitionism, examining and mocking the narcissistic aspects of performing.
The piece begins—abruptly, almost rudely, with the houselights up, and they remain at full or partial strength for most of the piece—not much chance for the audience to hide, either. A narrow mirror is the first of the many items he brings onstage, and once he has set up a video monitor on a downstage table, it plays footage of what we assume is the young Miguel, happily dancing next to a Christmas tree.

Gutierrez settles down is to sit alongside a video monitor that plays a tape of him taking questions from an audience at Jacob's Pillow's outdoor stage. Reading from a transcript, he speaks his answers, which tend to ramble in broken phrases within which are some insights into the choreographic process. His eyes and deadpan expression clearly communicate his exasperation with his own attempts to explain on the spot what drives and motivates his work.

When he pauses the tape, relinquishes the microphone and switches from words to movement, he begins by lying on his back and reaching into his pants. He rolls over, drools onto the floor, then lets his head rest on the wet spot.  It's not the only time he lets things get messy, a bit grotesque. As the piece develops. Later, he slithers along the floor, his face just above the mirror, muttering "I think you should" while he lets his tongue slide along the glass.

Is he interested in seeing how uncomfortable he can make the audience? Or how he feels while doing things that make us uncomfortable? In one particularly odd sequence, he holds himself in a  table-top position, wearing half-rolled-down underpants, suspending himself above a small, candle. His certainly invites some intriguing imagined possibilities. Holding the position for the duration of an entire song, singing along in falsetto, he looks out at us while four people walk on, place a large book under the candle, each time bringing it closer to his suspended rear.

We can sense how intensely uncomfortable he must be, and he can see how uncomfortable (or not) it makes us to be watching something to ungainly and awkward. There are times during the piece when Gutierrez seems to enjoy debasing himself, and to be doing it because he's interested in how it affects the audience. Without conventional theatrical lighting, he is able much of the time to look right at us and see what we're doing, and he is quite skilled at staring right out at us in a way that makes each viewer feel (s)he's the specific target of his scrutiny.

Gutierrez's dancing consists of bursts of vigorous, rough movement, sometimes injecting a ballet move of a suggestion of club dancing. But the piece seems more about attitude and exploration. The sweetly grooving boy we saw in the first video, and then later dancing among a slew of girls in what must be a dance school recital, would have looked in the mirror and seen "gotta dance" eagerness spilling out of himself. In the course of this piece, he makes himself look messy, sloppy, infantile, or ungainly. He even sports an absurd shaggy, frosted wig for the first portion of the piece - perhaps a nod to the "bleach blond 19-year-old Latino" he describes in a 2002 interview. He can shift into hysteria—for a while he scrambles around frantically, with pauses to yell "look at me!" at the top of his lungs.

At the end, he stands nude once again, facing us and repeatedly, rather woefully, telling us his name, as stagehands clear the space. Three women in glamorous metallic cocktail dresses enter and without any fanfare, the program continues with "Difficult Bodies." As Gutierrez provides muttered and manipulated vocal sounds off on the side, Anna Azrieli, Michelle Boule and Abby Crainn swivel and vamp placidly in unison Gradually making their way to the floor and slither out of their dresses, sprawling and rolling back and forth with almost butoh-like gawkiness and innocence.

They stand facing us in simple black underwear, with giddy smiles on their faces. They could be reflecting on some giddy secret, or finding amusement in the audience's surprise at being stared at. The trio continues for about 40 minutes, keeping us off balance with its sly sensuality and mixed signals.

Guttierez clearly has a significant and enthusiastic following, and many admirers in the dance press, after only three years of presenting his own works. This substantial, continuous program was mostly not pleasant or easy to watch—nor was it rudely confrontational. It was thought-provoking, and made one question his motivations as well as ideas about the mutual compact between performer and audience.  

Photos, of Miguel Guttierez, in "Retrospective Exhibitionist," by Julieta Cervantes.

Volume 3, No. 45
November 28, 2005

copyright ©2005 Susan Reiter



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last updated on December 5, 2005