When Miguel Gutierrez left the Joe Goode Company in 1996, he was a hot dancer. He returned to the Bay Area a mature artist. In Retrospective Exhibitionist and Difficult Bodies, part of ODC Theater's recent "For the Record: Dancers Debate the Body Politic" at Project Artaud Theater, Gutierrez worked at breaking down the invisible divide between performer and audience. Granted, this idea has been tried before but few have taken it as far, or developed it as consistently, as Gutierrez has done. The result was an evening of dance theater that at times pushed beyond what I can stomach but nevertheless left me full of admiration for the skill with which he works the material and the audience.
Gutierrez's focus of attention was the body, his and ours, individually and collectively. He raised questions about performers as narcissists and exhibitionists, and about the audience as voyeurs. He subverted expectations on timing, eliminated divisions of physical space (with brilliant lighting design by Lenore Doxsee), and embraced the authentic with the sentimental. It was manipulation of the first order, and totally autocratic.
In the opening segment when he futzed around, naked between his ankles and neck, assembling props, we learned only that he is well-built and has added a few pounds since his San Francisco days. When he then invited (actually, commanded) the audience to repeat after him, "I am Miguel Gutierrez," my reaction was, "The hell I am." The tone of confrontation wove through the evening like a cry, perhaps indicative of a love-hate relationship with performance.
Retrospective was a rich tapestry of episodes that raised questions about perception. What is more real, an ad lib monologue on video, or its imitation read live from a script? Where does the screaming singer stop and become the man spilling his guts? Do we direct our eyes to Gutierrez as a teen heartthrob in an archival clip downstage, or to the live dancer way off in a corner? Have the women disappeared in the glittering sequins of their gowns in Difficult Bodies?
When a burning candle was moved ever closer to Guiterrez's naked butt, the performance became voyeurism at its worst. My instinct was to get up and grab the candle, saying "I am Miguel Guiterrez." Unfortunately, I didn't have the guts.