Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Miguel Gutierrez and the Powerful People at BAM Next Wave Festival

A soft, glowing globe--like a goddess breast of white, translucent parachute cloth--looms over cramped performance space carved out by three angled thrusts of audience seating, their front edges cutting right into that surface in BAM Fisher's Fishman Space. Miguel Gutierrez hasn't given himself--or his dancers...or us, for that matter--much room to maneuver. And yet, during its 90 minutes, And lose the name of action aims to channel big, hefty other worlds and states of being and perception.

L-r: Luke George, Miguel Gutierrez, Ishmael Houston-Jones and K.J. Holmes (Photo by Julieta Cervantes)

Performed by Gutierrez with a stellar cast of collaborators--Michelle Boulé, Ishmael Houston-Jones, Luke George, Hilary Clark and K.J. Holmes--And lose the name of action takes its premise from the choreographer's interest in neuroscience and the senses and, in particular, what he sees as the absence, in any discourse on philosophy and innovations in neuroscience, of any mention of what dancers know about the body. On a deeply personal level, though, it is also influenced by his father's struggles with a neurological disorder.

His program notes for the piece (worth a read, if you get a copy) conclude,

Along the way, I became intrigued with seemingly irrational ideas from the paranormal field, with their focus on insubstantial bodies, and I created a link between this field and my experiences performing and watching dance, which itself constantly disappears and haunts, and the hallucinatory experience of watching my father and family undergo a change I could never have predicted and only barely understand now.
From the outset, even before the performance begins, something is in the air. A heavy, soapy scent, actually. I can't swear this is deliberate--not something an audience member was wearing--but Gutierrez is interested in the senses. And so...maybe. And there's a very low-level sound thing going on, too. Something chiming, some voice or voices barely detectable beneath the audience chatter and the usher's anxious seating instructions.

The piece, itself, goes on to wink and wobble and lurch so much that it sometimes dumps and spills us out of its disoriented/disorienting state as much as it envelopes us. The relatively brief audience participation in a kind of seance presided over by a smarmy Houston-Jones seems especially wink-y--and yet, also, genuinely intense with all the dancers chanting and stiffly splaying their limbs in spirit-infused rapture.

Gutierrez either contains or explodes energy, feeling, thought. Sequences of hand gestures are performed with great calm despite a sense of obsessive and/or sacred ritualization--playing a piano runs into typing runs into chopping runs into declaiming without words and bigger, formal, ritualistic movements in duets or groups. In inexplicable but interesting spotlit-moments, Houston-Jones makes like a ninja sprite and Boulé, like a drunken Isadora. Dancers spill into the space, flowing, flopping, sloshing, stuttering, stumbling, twirling, negotiating near collisions like suddenly agitated molecules. A voice mumbles a musical "Fuck you," so barely discernible that you check, again and again, to be sure that you're really hearing it. There's pregnant talk of "a gesture of bad faith." The space fills with mad Ophelias. A bearded guy (actor Paul Duncan) appears in a video that, depending on your seat, you can see or not see. Deck chairs on the Titanic get rearranged...okay, well, not the Titanic...or maybe...but the very special, restricted white chairs interspersed among the front audience rows and commandeered by dancers play a heavy role in all of this and take a good deal of the brunt.

With a soundscape often lulling us into an altered state (and possibly slumber), And lose the name of action can switch between graceful and graceless, sharply envisioned and disorganized (deliberately or not), ludicrous and alarming. I doubt that it will come to count among my favorite Gutierrez works, but it does remind me of my first--and abiding--impression of his work, that gut feeling that I'm in the middle of an earthquake.

With lighting by Lenore Doxsee, sound design by Neal Medlyn, video and writing by Boru O'Brien O'Connell, costumes by David Tabbert and dramaturgy by Juliana May

Miguel Gutierrez and the Powerful People perform And lose the name of action at BAM Fisher (Fishman Space) through Saturday, December 8 at 7:30pm and December 7 at 10pm.

Seating is limited. Sold out, although people on last night's waiting list were able to get in. So, give it a shot. For information, click here.

BAM Fisher (Fishman Space)
321 Ashland Place, Brooklyn
(map/directions)

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