Choreographer Miguel Gutierrez Breaks Open American Icon James Dean
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.
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 pretty harrowing.
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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