If you’ve never seen Miguel Gutierrez’s work, you’re missing out. There are people who are born to make art, to make us think, to make us question what we do, and Miguel is one of those people. In his newest work, Everyone, performed in March to packed crowds at the Abrons Arts Center at the Henry Street Settlement, Gutierrez generously hands the development of the piece over to the group of dancers with whom he performs, and the result is powerful.
The impetus for this piece, and much of Miguel’s work, is energy. Not the kind produced by impeccable technique, high leaps, and breathtaking turns, but rather the energy within from people’s movement together, apart, or in absence. This work is more experience than performance for both dancers and audience. With Everyone we take an inviting ride through the examining mind of Gutierrez, who questions his role in dance and movement’s role in the larger scheme of life.
We start sitting on stage. The curtain is down, the lights are high, the ropes and pipes that make up the complicated underbelly of the stage are visible. One at a time, the musician, Chris Forsyth, then the dancers walk onto the stage and invite us in with grinning stares. Anna, Michelle, Abby, Miguel, Isabel, Daniel, Otto and Elizabeth slowly look to the audience as live soft acoustic guitar music sets a somber mood. Their primary colored t-shirts gleam in the sun-like lighting. Head-rotating stares slowly trigger finger curls which give way to a kinetic follow-the-leader. The individuals get closer to one another and move around the stage in a cyclical pattern, seamlessly transitioning from subtle hand waves to forceful throwing gestures.
The pattern of the individual moving within and then with the group repeats throughout the piece, varied by context, content and emotion. Gutierrez discusses his daily musings: ignoring people he knows on the street, dreaming about an ex-boyfriend or thinking about the war. He is then embraced in a romping tirade of ecstatic sexual gestures and group interactions that had me recalling the “Free to Be You and Me” records my parents used to play when I was a kid. Another individual then steps out, reluctantly watches, but gets pulled back into the mayhem. We, the audience, are that dancer choosing to be included or not.
What makes Gutierrez’s Everyone more interesting than any picture painted through words here is the generous inquisitive mood it produced. I was taking this odd otherworldly outing with them, and I was experiencing these dancers’ minds at work and at play.
The curtain finally opens, the dancers make their way out into the theater seating and sing, “When you rise, you must sing songs.” I was more amused than I’ve ever been. The singing gave way to screaming orders on stage, strenuous frozen poses, long make-out sessions between the dancers and in the end, Michelle on stage, monotonously shouting, “Oh how many bad poems I will write this year…one down, so many more to go…” For our sake, let’s hope Gutierrez does have many more to go.