Art / Dance / Society & Culture / Staff Picks

[DANCE] American Realness: Michelle Boulé and Miguel Gutierrez

As you may know, NYC is in the midst of a slew of contemporary dance festivals all over this schizophrenic city and, guys, if you haven’t been you still have a few more days to experience the awesome.

I went to three solo shows yesterday ($20 each) that are being presented in the American Realness festival down at the Abrons Arts Center in Chinatown: WONDER by Michelle Boulé, …Too Freedom… by Adrienne Truscott (not discussed below, but you should go see), and myendlesslove by Miguel Gutierrez. Both Boulé and Gutierrez happen to teach at my alma mater (The New School) making me wish I’d said fuckit to opera and poetry and gotten crazy in their classes instead. What’s new.

Only a few things that excited me beyond measure:

Michelle Boule in rehearsal for WONDER, photo by Wah Ming Chang

Guys, I like nudity in dance. It’s a truth. I like it because it makes me feel instantly connected, trusted, and foreign. In WONDER, Boulé strides out (and keep in mind I like to go into these things knowing very little about what’s going to happen) she strides out from the corner of the stage which we’re all sitting on, in chairs, in the round, and she’s nude with her arms outstretched and an enormous, open-mouthed smile on her face. Her eyes are directed just above our heads as she performs the same rocking motion back and forth all around the room (and us) for roughly ten minutes, 80s music blasting.

I’m thinking how unlike stripping this is and feeling sorry for the sad-sacks hiding in strip clubs to see bodies that are hiding, finding joy in the way her wavy, black hair flounces behind her as she bounds around the circle in plastered-happiness, the extension and contraction and balancing of her feet, looking to the faces in the audience to see how they’re feeling in their clothed bodies in the presence of her nude one or how they’re handling the duration of what she’s doing.

She crouches down next to the only empty chair and begins putting on a worn bra and underwear and I think simultaneously about my love for watching friends and lovers get dressed, and about what makes this art so I know if what I make is poetry.

This piece gave me what I go to dance to experience: truth in a way I can’t get anywhere else. Almost ever. Sometimes you’re in bed with your lover and they turn away from you in partial sleep and you watch them turning toward the blue window trying to get comfortable instead of sexy and you want to say I’ve never loved you more than this moment in which you are moving only like you.

That’s what dance is to me. There is something about the limitations of our physical human shapes so lengthy with our long, wild extremities and the dense collection of minute shapes of the face that’s so wondrously curious and fascinating, that brings out our individual extraordinariness that we could possibly be alive, and so brilliant and all things. Bodies that aren’t hiding. They make me believe there’s no reason to hide.

Miguel Gutierrez in myendlesslove, photo by Ian Douglas

Miguel Gutierrez in myendlesslove, photo by Ian Douglas

Miguel Gutierrez’s piece, myendlesslove, also has nudity, and though it was one of the parts I liked most it was overshadowed by three other moments in this meditation on love, desire, sex, and queer grief: a love song early in the piece, water emptying, and the “duet” at the end.

The stage is sparse with four TVs of different sizes placed at varying levels and distances, cables, a chair, harmonica, guitar, small amp and pedal, microphone, and across from all this a thin, young boy (Connor Voss) in underwear and big sneakers holding a full-length mirror.

It’s not the way the piece starts, but Gutierrez makes his way over to the microphone set-up amongst the TVs and begins singing “love you”. He begins harmonizing with himself, depressing the pedal which records the last thing he’s sung and plays it over the other previous live recordings. The intensities of harmony, dynamic, and fervor build with careful deliberation until loud dissonance is introduced over and over itself and we feel the degeneration of relationship or love or oncoming internal fear or just a love that’s so much it’s just so much.

Much later, the room is dark except for two strands of lights hanging down the wall and maybe a TV or two with the close-up face of men on them. The boy from earlier now stands some way behind Gutierrez facing the audience with his mirror as the dancer walks toward us pouring out a large water bottle into his mouth and down his cheeks, neck, chest, down onto the black floor as he moves. His head tilts back pulling his body with it and I’m at the right angle that the lights behind illuminate his bent profile and shine madly on the dark water accumulating at his feet.

Last is a sort of duet between the two that Gutierrez leads. He moves his muscular barrel of a body on the now wet floor, rising and twisting slowly from side to side, sweeping his arms up beside his head, the boy near the wall behind him mimicking him with close attention. Besides nudity, I can’t get enough of experiencing identical choreography on dissimilar bodies. The boy is tall, thin, hairless, his skin seems not even to move when he does, the languid movements on him feeling more pointed.

This is just a taste, guys, I left everything out. So get your pants on, find a subway, and get to these pieces before the festivals end – you’ll be so happy you did. Need a little more incentive? Find it here.

Alyssa Morhardt-Goldstein is the founding editor of SOUND, a literary magazine on contemporary musico-poetics. She received her MFA in poetry from The New School, and her BS in classical vocal performance and literature from Mannes. Her chapbook, Quiet, was selected by Matthea Harvey as The New School’s 2012 Chapbook Contest winner for poetry. She is currently writing the libretto for Jonathan Dawe’s modern operatic re-telling of Tamburlaine. @Elkawildling

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