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Miguel Gutierrez and the Powerful People
Dance Theater Workshop, NYC
September 15–19, 2009
Reviewed by Eva Yaa Asantewaa
Acting out: Tarek Halaby, Miguel Gutierrez, and Michelle Boulé (background) in Last Meadow. Photo by Yi-Chun Wu, courtesy DTW.
With Last Meadow, choreographer Miguel Gutierrez and sound designer Neal Medlyn have created a dark echo chamber—or maybe it's a pinball machine—for obsessive, manic thoughts about gender, sexuality, violence, and being fed up with America. These thoughts take visual form in the marvelously adaptable, frighteningly durable bodies of dancer-actors Gutierrez, Tarek Halaby, and Michelle Boulé, a love triangle out of Hollywood flicks by way of queer performance. This is the theater, honey, and they are definitely acting out.
Boulé sports an ugly blond ’do, jeans, and a red shirt, doing her best James Dean—the iconic poses; the sensitive, pained eyes; the maddening evasiveness. Halaby—our ingénue—flirts, tosses long brown tresses, and swishes his girly skirt as the audience giggles. The choreographer—wearing hideous slacks he says he got from Kmart and a ratty, shapeless black wig—goes from boyish dork one minute to rapist the next. Medlyn and lighting designer Lenore Doxsee—geniuses in their respective fields—contribute to the sense of the trio, and all of us, being trapped in a psychic funhouse, a sonic pressure cooker. The mind reels as the movie reel lurches forward and backward and lapses into slo-mo and sometimes gets snagged on something and just vibrates. It's a long, strange trip, a personally invasive, exhausting 90 minutes and the gutsiest thing I've ever seen Gutierrez put together.
Poetic, sentimental title? Look it up: “Last meadow” is another term for a stroke, a disconnect where the heart's blood fails to reach the brain. Underneath the initially placid, safe surface (of the characters, of America), all is not well, all is not what it seems. Cheesy fog effects, theatrical lighting, and interspersed segments of rehearsing, warming up, and downtime small talk disrupt any easy consumption of the artifice.
Facing away from us and talking to himself—though, ironically, whispering into a microphone—Gutierrez warns of disaster and evinces a desire to be somewhere else, someone else.
Two longish, feverish segments stand out. One is a kind of Hellaerobics instructed by Boulé and frantically executed by her and her partners. (The command to “circle the wrists...circle the wrists...heroin!” sticks in my memory.) And there's a disco-like passage, smacking through the compression of sound, lighting, costuming, and behavior. Stripped down to their undies, the trio engages in a joyous, animalistic release. This could have been an ending—a pat one—but Gutierrez doesn't leave matters there. His political and creative restlessness—his refusal to settle and to settle down—makes him one of our most provocative and necessary artistic voices.