Miguel Gutierrez and the Powerful People | Dance review
One of the more vivid moments during last night’s opening of And lose the name of action at the Museum of Contemporary Art, from the dance artist Miguel Gutierrez and collaborators the Powerful People, takes place minutes into the performance.
The cast assembles on a sterile-looking, pristinely white stage flanked by two video screens, all under the canopy of a white parachute. Famed artist Ishmael Houston-Jones prompts a séance by asking the audience, seated in-the-round, to hold each other’s hands. The dancers sing in repeated verse (“Open your eyes, follow the light, squeeze my hand”). The lights dim, the parachute changes colors, and a series of booming sounds pulses in the arena. Then the lights come back up; transmission complete. It effectively inserts everyone into Gutierrez’s world, which, he notes, is based on three years of research and his experience with his father, who suffers a debilitating neurological disorder.
That disorder—a series of blood clots in the brain—lays bare one of Gutierrez’s intentions of action: questioning the role that “perception plays to determine reality and how various disciplines talk about the body and mind connection.” In this case, the specific discipline Gutierrez uses is dance and the perception is anyone’s guess.
Talk about daunting. Yet, thinking about consciousness and the brain-body relationship, action, its title deriving from the “to be or not to be” soliloquy from Shakespeare’s Hamlet, is a roller-coaster ride worth taking. Some will find it bizarre and difficult; it stretches many directions in 85 minutes. But there’s rhyme and reason for what Gutierrez and his five dancers do during various stages, some of which include scripted dialogue, dance improvisation and random conversation. With a cast that ranges in age, size and style, the piece relies on its variances.
The striking dance artist K.J. Holmes starts by looking into a white box that glows with blue light. She whispers a soft refrain: “I’m an old man. Well, not an old man, but a man with some years.” Gutierrez and Houston-Jones enter. Seated in chairs, they engage one another, using their weight to counterbalance. The screens light up with a man, seemingly trapped in a white box. He speaks clearly, pondering questions in his head. At times, his lips don’t properly sync with his words. The image returns throughout the piece, like a haunting presence.
Action progresses, and so does the ambiguity. The movement, much of it unpolished and raw, overtakes the dialogue. One segment features a nude Holmes and Houston-Jones uncomfortably close to one another: Holmes, draped in a see-through fish net, crawls at the feet of Houston-Jones, who sits in a hazy limbo. Gutierrez, Michelle Boulé, Hilary Clark and Luke George find ways of physically confronting each other, pushing, shoving, screaming. At one point, the cast continuously shouts at one another, “Fuck you!” A chase ensues, which becomes solely directed toward Houston-Jones. Later, Gutierrez, on all fours, nestles his face into the bosom of Holmes, dragging a white sheet from the pocket of her shirt. Clark enters matter-of-factly, offering to help clear the stage as though she is a stagehand.
The surprise, primarily, is that action doesn’t frustrate in its abstractions; the piece feels like a puzzle, the answer dangling on the tip of your tongue. You might not get the answer, but there’s satisfaction knowing the answer lies somewhere within the recesses of your brain. Eventually, it’ll come back to you.
Miguel Gutierrez and the Powerful People perform And lose the name of action Friday 1–Sunday 3 at the Museum of Contemporary Art.