Thursday night took us out to CPR for a dance concert featuring Kyle Abraham and Miguel Gutierrez as part of the Queer Conscience festival. The place was packed, I’ve never seen so many people crammed into CPR before, and the energy was festive and congenial. The evening started with a fierce solo from Kyle Abraham. I’ve heard a lot about his work but had never seen it. Even though this was a work-in-progress it was easy to tell that Kyle is a hell of a dancer. He entered the room, plugged his iPod into the sound system, took the stage and completely held our attention for the next fifteen minutes or so. His precision and athleticism were impressive as he referenced -and then exploded – the tropes of “urban” movement vocabularies. It was just a pleasure to watch him move and I look forward to seeing more complete works from him in the future.
Kyle was followed by a young, playful, amateurish duo named Richard and Mikki who performed a cute, if sophomoric, romp riffing on cheerleading and American gymnastics. Really rough around the edges, they reminded me of the old days at Surf Reality or Collective Unconscious – silly, messy fun.
Richard and Mikki were followed by Miguel Gutierrez performing a new work-in-progess, “Heaven What Have I Done” in which he demonstrated the method behind his messiness, creating a truly transporting, hypnotic performance. He came out in street clothes with face painted in clownish drag make-up, turned on a recording of Cecilia Bartoli and proceeded to have the audience move the risers into a semi-circle while he set up. The audience was thus, literally, unsettled, as he turned the stage into a messy playroom, taping blank paper to the wall, setting up an amp with distortion/echo pedals, throwing all his spare change around the room and changing into a costume by Machine Dazzle. The costume was rainbow colored pantaloons with matching cuffs and a strange shirt contraption as well as high-heeled capezios. He looked like an acid-induced hallucinations of a French nobleman from the 18th century wrapped in a rainbow flag. All the while he was reciting a rambling monologue – starting out talking about how he always gets tired right before he is going to perform, to a conversation with bodyworker, to how European presenters have commented that his work is “messy” to a harangue on French president Sarkozy’s attempts to shore up French identity.
Finally, when all was set up, he started declaiming into the microphone, in French, a litany of denials, “I don’t want the responsibility!” “I don’t want the weight!” – interspersed with him singing along with Cecilia Bartoli. The whole thing – distorted, echo-ey, declamatory – reached a crescendo of noise and Miguel danced violently around the stage, then off stage around behind the risers and back again. It was bewildering, dangerous and exciting. The piece ended on a strangely sincere note, with Miguel repeatedly thanking us for coming as he spoke into the microphone slowly sinking to the floor, until he was entirely supine, mumbling into the overturned microphone and the lights went to black.
I enjoyed the performance immensely – it was chaotic and noisy and messy and somewhat inscrutable, but it was also beautiful and disorienting and suggestive. As I mentioned before, it revealed some of the method behind the mess and it made me realize what a huge difference there is between carefully calculated mess and just plain sloppy. Everything Gutierrez did was pointed and focused, the “mess” was part of a process of deliberate disorientation and upending expectations, of trying to shake us from our torpor and sleep, to wake us up and have us be in a state of attention, seeing things in a new way. I especially liked the intimacy of the performance. It was a visceral sensory overload with a haunting, emotionally poignant undertone.
Hat tip to Earl Dax for curating such a great show and to Jonah and Co. at CPR for presenting it.