Work from the Heart (and then some): Miguel Gutierrez and the Powerful People’s Retrospective Exhibitionist

Miguel Gutierrez in Retrospective Exhibitionist. Photos courtesy of Miguel Gutierrez and the Powerful People.

Hello. Please repeat after me.
I (I)
am (am)
Miguel (Miguel)
Gutierrez (Gutierrez)

Wearing a green hat, a blonde wig, red sneakers, and nothing else, Gutierrez walks onto the Dance Theater Workshop stage, places a mirror on the back wall, checks out his floppy musculature, and walks off, leaving us staring at a black wall and our own reflections. His next trip onstage brings a TV/VCR on which we watch a tape of what we assume to be a young dancing Gutierrez. The third trip places him downstage center where he methodically asks his audience to repeat after him: “I am Miguel Gutierrez.” Still lit by the bright house lights, we respond, “I am Miguel Gutierrez,” actively accepting a participatory role in the examination and experience of Miguel and, subsequently, ourselves.

Retrospective Exhibitionist leads the audience on an expository trip through Gutierrez’s physical and mental history as a dancer and an egoist—a man with self-doubt, self-love and a sex drive. This type of self-indulgent theme often comes across as vain and masturbatory. The use of performance art-type screams and drooling spits, now pervading the world of dance, are usually alienating and self-indulgent. But Gutierrez makes it work, examining and climaxing in naked honesty, laying everything bare for himself and his audience.

His movement explores the range of a dancer’s vocabulary: jazz, ballet, short bursts of action, gesture and stillness. As we watch Gutierrez’s younger self on video juxtaposed with his current aging body on stage, the maturing physical form counteracts the young stereotype of the dancer’s body, rendering the perfectionist dancer human. His movements quicken, becoming desperate as he screams, “look at me, look at me!” Gutierrez begs us to look at who he is now: his less than perfect body, his layers of shame, love, regret, and hope, his evident history.

We watch a video of Gutierrez looking straight at the camera/audience and then into a mirror. The video continually repeats, layering the mirror image of the previous shot onto the mirror onscreen. Gutierrez, the dancer, writhes around on top of another mirror, mumbling “I could have been somebody,.. I could have… I could be somebody…”

He layers his voice as he delves deeper into the layers of his body. Using a voice recorder, he screams “won’t you please beat it beat it into me please.” Changing emphasis on various syllables creates a cacophony of words to which he dances. When the beat dies out we are left with one repeating word: FAME- every performer’s secret dream and nightmare.

Dance break: Gutierrez runs through the audience and out to the lobby to grab a Whole Foods bag filled with sustenance to make his dancer’s body fatter… fatter… fatter…

In the last moments of his solo Gutierrez stands before us, naked again, looking straight into our eyes. We stare back at him. After an awkward span of time he starts to cry, then to sob. His body begins to shake. We watch… in awe? In horror? In sympathy? He stands silent; we begin to clap. We finish clapping; he still stands silent. We watch. This is Gutierrez, the egoist, the dancer full of self-doubt, the man full of self-love, his body fully exposed. “Miguel Gutierrez,” he tells us once again.

As he clears the stage, three women dressed in sparkling cocktail wear line up and begin a simple, repetitive phrase. Anna Azriele, Michelle Boule and Abby Crainn perform Difficult Bodies, moving forward in a bland, continuous projection of moving duration. It’s like watching a string of chorus girls struggling to find meaning in their mundane existence. We see nothing of the layers hammered home in Gutierrez’s solo— until each lady slowly undresses to reveal non-descript black underwear. Writhing in grotesque movements, they start their descent to the back wall. Azriele stands dead center, screaming with terrifying blandness until she ends up on all fours, basking in her own sexuality. Donning t-shirts, the women march forward to Gutierrez’s live manipulated voice recordings, stopping downstage center to sing “I’m a survivor, I’m gonna make it,” a la Destiny’s Child. Exposed, determined, terrified, and uncompromising, the chorus girls press on.

In an email sent out to publicize “Retrospective Exhibitionist,” Gutierrez wrote: “I give you an evening ripped from the center of my heart.” I honestly believe he did.

Kathryn Enright is currently pursuing her MA in Dance Ethnography at NYU’s GallatinSchool of Individualized Study.

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Kathryn Enright

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