Miguel Gutierrez "Last Meadow" for American Realness Festival

After a compelling opening scene in which the powerful Michelle Boulé delivers a grieving and unintelligible monologue into a microphone while slumped over in a chair and dressed in a James Dean blonde wig, blue jeans, white t-shirt and red jacket, the 90-minute Last Meadow ambles for a while.  It’s almost a warm-up for the audience, slowly opening the door but not particularly welcoming.  I find myself wondering if this a result of the proscenium setting at Henry St. Settlement.  The last time I saw MGPP there, we too sat on stage with the company and I found that proximity very viscerally satisfying.  But, as the work picks up momentum and fury, I begin to find entry.

Gutierrez – as sidekick, father figure, and ominous live over-dubber – adds sinister tones to the teen-angsty and teen-awkward relationship between Boulé’s Dean and Tarek Halaby’s female ingénue with his saccharine smile and slicked over-comb.  As text and subtexts play out and repeat, we are provided with many moments to consider the nature of performance and, as a provocative component to Ben Pryor’s “American Realness Festival,” the state of American contemporary dance.  I’ve heard debates about Gutierrez’s latest work since it’s premiere at the TBA Festival in Oregon and after it opened DTW’s season this past fall, about where it is dance, performance art or theater? And, I shoot back to those pondering this tedious question with a simple: “Yes.” It’s an AND not an OR.  Whether Gutierrez is reciting text about the dismal dream of an inflated country, or simultaneously mimicking the lines of Boulé and Halaby (quoting one of the three Dean films referenced throughout) – at one point with the mic shoved in his mouth – or ripping his clothes off and gyrating over audience members to Madonna’s “Jump” it’s all dance, theater, and performance art the entire time. It’s live performance, originating in the body and in relationship to – but not reliant on – text.  Oh… and exploding with powerful visuals and sound thanks to moody, scenic, evocative and raucous lighting by Lenore Doxsee and an epic sound design by Neal Medlyn.

Epic. Legendary. Something’s formulating in my head about how both Trajal and Miguel bring forth important cultural references that speak to and from our specific moment in time in this country. The meeting of serious thinking and blatant irreverence, the treatments of fame and subjective histories, the construction and performance of gender/age/race via superficial trappings and kinesthetic effort, the duration based challenges for an A.D.D. audience, the discourse of these works and the visions of these artists bring popular culture together with an often-impenetrable form.  This is Real American Art where our icons are stripped and legends reduced to a gesture, but not for the sake of sound-byte.

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