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Miguel Gutierrez, unmasked and ass to the fire

By GUS SOLOMONS Jr.

Miguel Gutierrez & the Powerful People made a big splash in January 2004, with Gutierrez’s first major choreographic outing—the evening-long installation piece “dAMNATION rOAD” at the Kitchen. How do you top that? What about an hour-long solo called “Retrospect­ive Exhibition­ist” at Dance Theater Workshop?

Gutierrez, sporting red sneakers and a green baseball cap—nothing else—strides onto a bare stage, carrying a mirror, then a table, chair, TV/VCR, and a big boom box. He pumps barbells before the mirror, dons sweat pants and T-shirt, and sits beside the TV, which is playing a Q&A session with him after a Jacob’s Pillow outdoor performance. Reading from a transcript, he mimics his own convoluted answers to audience’s questions—a situation with which most performers can identify. Abruptly, he pauses the video, lies down, flutters a hand, does a crunch, rubs his crotch, drools on the floor, and rubs his cheek in it, before returning to the video interview. The autobiography continues with a tape of Gutierrez, dancing in a childhood recital, while onstage he does a series of risky one-foot balances. Then, he whips off the shaggy, blond-tipped wig he’s wearing and does a frenetic solo that shows off his awesome technique—speed, balance, and coordination, laced with quirky gesticulations. He’s clown/chee­rleader/wild man, at once thinking about doing and doing.

Throughout, Gutierrez subjects himself to feats of stamina and delves into neuroses common to dancers. “Look!” he yells repeatedly, between furious bouts of dancing. He reflects on what “could’ve been,” as he gazes at his reflection in the mirror he’s laid on the floor; he whispers, “I think you should.” into the glass and leaves a trail of spittle on it. He throws himself vehemently to the ground in a frustrated tantrum, not able to achieve perfection. He shouts into the microphone “Won’t you please beat it, beat it into me please,” and a looping device turns it into a mocking chorus. He lights a candle and perches his bare bottom above it. Audience members—including mentors and artistic influences—incrementa­lly raise the candle by piling books under it, holding not his feet but, literally, his ass to the fire. He storms out of the theater mumbling about eating more chocolate, and getting fatter and fatter. You can’t help noticing he has put on considerable weight.

Artistically, dance as autobiography is fraught with the pitfalls of self-indulgence, but Gutierrez is so compelling to watch and makes such imaginative choices about what to do with himself that his courage and vulnerability outbalance egotism. Finally, he strips naked again, trembles, and sinks to hands and knees in a keening wail that grows into a cathartic primal scream—“I am.”

The virtuoso solo segues into “Difficult Bodies, “ a mostly unison trio by Gutierrez in collaboration with dancers Anna Azrieli, Michelle Boule, and Abby Crain, which has them vamping in glittery dresses, then stripping to their underwear and rolling on the floor; Gutierrez accompanies them by cooing into the mic and looping the phrases into a rhythmic roar. One vocal motif goes, “I am perfect and you will love me.” The trio is clearly a coda to the solo; it defuses the tension left hanging palpably in the room. Whether or not it adds to the evening’s total impact depends on your gut response to Gutierrez’s confrontational retrospection.

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Updated 5:17 pm, July 20, 2018
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