Everyone In This Room Is In This Fucking Dance: MIGUEL GUTIERREZ’S WHEN YOU RISE UP

While many choreographers dance in their productions, I wonder how often a choreographer writes for their works. Miguel Gutierrez’s book of “performance texts,” When You Rise Up, published by 53rd State Press, shows a readership that dance, too, can be language intensive, if not the extension of a poetics (as Eileen Myles suggests in a blurb to the book, these texts in fact comprise a kind of poetry). Reading these texts on the page, they come alive as much as they do through Gutierrez’s performances. Only, if we haven’t seen the performances themselves, we are forced to imagine how dance would give words form and expression.

Miguel Gutierrez. Photo by Ves Pitts.

When I think of Gutierrez’s choreography, I think of dance/movement as only a small part of the work.  His language use is significantly shaped by cinema and theater. In each text, Gutierrez gets inside “the head” of the 20- or 30-something generation—people who often don’t know what to do with themselves, where to put their energies, how to act “powerful” among others. Driving the performance texts is a socio-political conscience, though one hyper-attentive to the clichés of a socially committed, queer-inflected dance culture and public discourse.

Often people discuss a new “sincerity” among an emergent generation of artists. In countless ways, Gutierrez’s choreography represents for me a new kind of sincerity in dance. But the term sincerity is tricky, because it doesn’t admit the many ironic strategies Gutierrez also employs.  Perhaps a better term is in order.  Affectively intense? Emotionally porous? Gutierrez’s texts present collective affects, if only through the guise of a singular speaker: “I am perfect and / you will love me and / everyone in this room is in this fucking dance.” Where does Gutierrez’s autobiography leave off and where does the experience of his reader pick up? How much is a kind of journalism and how much narrative-poetic invention? A facile sincerity is constantly checked by a modernist sensibility (a la Brecht or Godard), providing the terms of our meditation , framing our attention.

While the book is short (one wishes it was about 40 pages longer), the texts immediately endear the reader. My favorites include one in which the speaker/Gutierrez logs what happened to him during a single day. Here he tells us stories, then reveals he has been making them up. He reads theory on a toilet and mutters to himself. He is embarrassed to record the body count of the Iraq War (too didactic) but does it anyway (thus acting self-reflexively didactic). In another text, Gutierrez provides a wonderful list of what dance does not do, in the process underscoring the many social realities and problems dance mediates. Through its exuberant mediation of the everyday, dance can become a powerful force for empowerment and change—his is what so much of Gutierrez’s work, and these texts in particular, say to me.

Contributor

Thom Donovan

THOM DONOVAN edits Wild Horses of Fire weblog, and co-edits ON: Contemporary Practice, a journal committed to writings about one's contemporaries. His poetry, criticism, and scholarship have been published variously.

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