Thursday, May 1, 2014

The consequences of men: Gutierrez and Mahar at the Whitney

Dancers Mickey Mahar (l)
and Miguel Gutierrez (before he went fabulously blond)
(photo by Eric McNatt)

Some questions raised by an afternoon visit to Age & Beauty Part 1: Mid-Career Artist/Suicide Note or &:1/, a world premiere and Whitney Biennial commission by Miguel Gutierrez in collaboration with Mickey Mahar:

1. Do ten nails with freshly, perfectly painted "divine decadence" trump an offer of fluorescent hot pink polish?

Answer: Why, yes. They do. Refuse the offer.

2. Fluorescent hot pink strips pop off white walls and floors. Is this the queerest color of them all?

Yes. Inescapably so. Especially in a swimming suit and face paint on a newly bleached-blond, bearded choreographer.

3. Is 13 a lucky number?

Answer: Yes, if it's your 13th show.

4. I have a thousand and ten thousand things to say to you. My heart is full of futurity. What does this William Blake line (from a letter to Thomas Butts) have to do with anything?

Answer: We'll find out.

Some man got nervous--or something--yesterday at the Whitney, just as Miguel Gutierrez was winding down his affable introduction to Age & Beauty Part 1 in front of an audience jammed into a small, white-box performance space. The guy got up, mumbled an apology and left. Who knows why? Maybe all that gleaming white reflection was too much. Or maybe Gutierrez's hot (pink) look? In any case, he surely missed a thousand and ten thousand things.

The duet with Mickey Mahar launches a new area of investigation for Gutierrez and, he says, "deals with the challenge of being a mid-career artist and the attendant questions of longevity, sustainability, aesthetic signature and burnout."

Its opening passage gives us ample time to compare the two men--different in ethnicity, age, physique, skin tone and garb--as they move in strict unison. It is all parade, a mechanical display of hotness--shimmying and shrugging shoulders, deep pliés, gestures of arms and legs growing in kinetic and linguistic intricacy--in sync with blaring, pounding house beats. Mahar's light, precise and detached approach contrasts, interestingly, with the choreographer's self-presentation. Gutierrez inhabits the movements in a way that seems to contain and constrain a thousand and ten thousand things just below the surface. (You're in there, Miguel. We see you!) This goes on and on but, in a little while, both men will achieve some moments of intense and impressive physical control and physical inevitability.

Further along, the individuality of each performer becomes more pronounced. Gutierrez is like hard rubber tumbling noisily; Mahar, equally turbulent but still somewhat delicate, strangely graceful in his awkwardness, like a baby animal.
And Gutierrez's text--a trenchant cross between spoken word and art song--wrenches an audience in so many directions in so short a space of time that the only possible response is sweat.

Age and Beauty Part 1 feels like entropy--a copious, detailed, rigorous language devolving into common and familiar, if passionate, expression, Mahar slow, dreamily writhing on the floor while Gutierrez runs or flails or belts a song into a white microphone.

At the end, Gutierrez calmly dismisses the audience: It's over; you can leave now, or words to that effect. Yesterday, the audience took a while to get that he was serious and to rise and file out. How strange to be told to leave at the end of a presentation but, remember, it was also kind of strange for Gutierrez to personally welcome us and introduce his own show. The feeling? Good and more than a little not so good. Friendly and maybe not so friendly. What is the choreographer saying about who we are and what we've been doing--and watching--for the last 55 minutes?

I could be wrong but, just below the surface, a thousand and ten thousand things, barely held in check, all sound like: Get the fuck out!

With additional dance material by Christoffer Schieche and Roman Van Houtven; set design by Miguel Gutierrez; lighting by Lenore Doxsee; costumes by Dusty Childers

Age & Beauty Part 1: Mid-Career Artist/Suicide Note or &:-/ runs through Sunday, May 4. Advanced ticket sales are closed. If available, tickets will be released each performance date at 11am. A stand-by line will form one hour prior to each performance.

For show information, click here.
For Biennial information, click here.
For general Whitney visitors information, click here.

2014 Whitney Biennial
Whitney Museum of American Art
945 Madison Avenue at 75th Street, Manhattan

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