Choreographer Miguel Gutierrez Breaks Open American Icon James Dean
During the course of his career, choreographer Miguel Gutierrez has been celebrated as both a performer and a choreographer. His recent work The Last Meadow has traveled around the country and the world, and this weekend Miguel Gutierrez and the Powerful People's The Last Meadow will be landing at the Colony Theatre in Miami Beach, courtesy of the Cultura del Lobo series of Miami-Dade College.
No two descriptions of the piece are the same -- it clearly defies summary in words. It is actually about the disintegration of language, and the confusion between truth and reality. It's also about James Dean, but not necessarily the James Dean we think we know. The dancers are cross-dressed in '50s era costumes, and the cinematic scenes they play out have been fractured. This is just the entry point into a more generalized state of disorientation. Here Gutierrez offers some insight into his enigmatic work.
New Times: What is the emotional tone of this piece?
Miguel Gutierrez: There are several. I'm not sure that I can narrow it down to one. It's
somber, funny, exasperating, grating, absurd, exhilarating, suffocating,
inspiring. I think that this show sets you up to think that it's one
thing and then it becomes something else.
You're also working with the idea of confusion. What forms of confusion are you exploring?
There's a lot of text that is hard to understand or that gets drowned
out by music, and so at some point you have to surrender and just
experience it as texture or as action. There's also a confusion that
comes from the references to three James Dean films (East of Eden, Rebel
Without a Cause, and Giant). The films aren't reconstructed or even
deconstructed. Instead, the text and characters create associative
relationships that can't necessarily be figured out. I'm hoping that the
audience surrenders to experience, rather than comprehension.
Why James Dean? How does he resonate with you as a contemporary figure?
Right before we started working on The Last Meadow, I happened to borrow
the movie East of Eden from a friend. When I went to watch it, the disc
of the movie was missing but the special features disc was there, so I
watched that and came across the wardrobe tests, where they were
figuring out the costumes for the film and I became fascinated by them.
They're these perfect little silent films, dances really, and I became
particularly entranced by James Dean. He's sexy, androgynous, moody, and
constantly aware of the camera's presence. I thought about how we
project things onto him and how he is not present now to give us any
other information about himself. We have turned him into a myth. I
thought about how all kinds of myths exist in our culture -- the idea
that America is "great," the idea that fathers are strong and
infallible, the idea that dancers' bodies can just go on and on without
strain or decline. Somehow all of these things got mixed up with each
other and got absorbed into the piece.
What is the meaning of the title, The Last Meadow?
Early in the process of making the show, someone very close to me had
what appeared to be a stroke. In my research about it, I learned about
this term "Last Meadow," which refers to a kind of stroke where the
heart is so weak that it doesn't pump enough oxygen to the brain,
essentially starving the brain of what it needs. The term originates
from agriculture, where the last meadow is the one that receives the
least amount of irrigation. I thought it was a poetic name for something
Can you talk a little about your creative process? It seems like a highly collaborative work.
With each piece I sort of try to forget the ways I've worked before to
force myself into new ways of working. But it is true that I always work
very collaboratively with the performers. I like creating convivial
environments where people feel comfortable to play and experiment. Often
I give them problems to solve or directives to follow.
For example, in
The Last Meadow one of the exercises was to improvise on the idea of
doing everyday gestures from an alien world that doesn't exist. What
does "brushing your teeth" look like on a distant planet? Stuff like
that. For Meadow, Neal Medlyn (the sound designer) was present for about
80 percent of the rehearsals. Every now and then he would just try out
ideas and that was hugely influential. And I've worked with Lenore
Doxsee, lighting designer, for the past 10 years. For this show her
design basically functions as the set for the piece.
In general I think of the elements in a show, such as sound and light,
as other "performers" or "bodies" in the space. I know that that sounds
weirdly conceptual but it's a big part of the way I work.
Miguel Gutierrez and the Powerful People perform The Last Meadow as part
of MDC's Cultura del Lobo series this Friday and Saturday night at the
Colony Theater (1040 Lincoln Rd., Miami Beach0 at 8 p.m. Tickets
cost $20 to $25. Visit mdc.edu/culture.
--Annie Hollingsworth, artburstmiami.com
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