T:BA 9/20 Miguel Gutierrez

Hopelessly lost on my bicycle, somewhere in the vicinity of OMSI and a confusing jumble of construction sites, I found the extremely poorly-labeled Hampton Opera Center just in time to be let in.  The stage was in the round.  Lit up luminous white and stark, with several blank screens set at  peculiar angles on the various sides.  A large white parachute hung from the ceiling and gave the impression of being in a non-place.  Or as various characters state throughout the piece ‘an empty useless room’.

There are several white chairs positioned in various parts of the front row which we are told not to sit in upon our arrival.  Performers come in and occupy them as a dialogue plays with a mysterious bearded character on one screen who will become our narrator, if such a word could be used.  A woman enters with a white metal box, which glows when it opens.  This box also becomes a theme, used by various of the characters, and seems also to contain an ipad with a controller app for the spectacular lighting effects deployed throughout the show.  She speaks simultaneously with words (recordings of her actual voice it seems) played over the speakers.  The merger of voices off-stage and on, a soundtrack of soft glitches and hums, and the transformation of the empty ‘useless’ stage in a variety of colors and dramatic transitions set into motion a language and space the piece inhabited which was very much its own.

Over the course of the piece I really fell in with the title “Miguel Gutierrez and the Powerful People”, because I left wanting to know more about the backgrounds and thoughts of each dancer involved.  A cast of six -three women and three men- of a variety of ages and body types.  By the end of the show they had all well-earned the moniker.  With this in mind I recall a section in the introduction by one of the most intriguing cast members*, an older black man whose moments spoke of many years of experience, taking on the persona of a simultaneously hilarious and disturbing instructor in some manner of new age meditation technique.  He asked someone if they were frightened.. in a way both calculated to sound the soft purr of a kindergarden teacher.. and to make you for no rational reason suddenly afraid of what may happen.  There was also a whiff of a sinister cult leader as well and I immediately snapped to the recent film “Sound of My Voice” which also shares lighting and design aesthetic with And lose the name of action.

He then asks the audience to hold hands.  This was a bad idea for me personally, as I had just arrived in a mad dash bike ride having been entirely lost in the omnipresent OMSI construction, and I’m afraid I inflicted unacceptably sweaty palms on my unknown companions.  My apologies! Some art is dangerous..

The cast sing an operatic round that immediately changes the room and charges it with focus and intent.  Most have obviously trained or naturally powerful voices, and the effect is electric.  As it crescendos a sizzling bass frequency is hit (who knew the Opera House had a killer subwoofer?) and lights spin in kaleidoscopic overload.  Many of the performers sink back in their seats in post-divine circuit afterglow and the hands break apart.  God has arrived and departed and its only the first act of the show.

It would be difficult to describe a narrative after this.  There are a number of scenes, usually involving pairs or trios that often devolve to solos as transitions.  As the action goes on these scenes proliferate, either collaborating or moving in isolation on opposite ends of the stage.  In one intriguing instance we see two of them practicing a movement sequence over and over again and observe the process they use to decide timing.  The moments in which they will break apart, and then move together again.  This break down of the performance into apparent practicing occurs intermittently, and further shuffles the idea of narrative.

Something should be said about how ‘dancing’ is used in this show and how it plays into it.  There are certainly moments where they are all displaying impressive trained physical movements and expressions.  But most of these moments were embedded in a sequence which determined some context, however abstract or inexplicable.  I am actually reminded funnily enough of something Neil Young, an artist I respect but don’t normally follow, said in an interview on NPR which really stuck with me.  The comparison may be a poor one, but as a musician (pigeonholed as a ‘noise artist’ to boot) is one which comes immediately to mind, and really struck me when I heard it.  When asked about his explosive, feedback-laden guitar solos he explains something unasked.  In his sense of musical propriety the loud, uncontrolled, ecstatic noise of the solos is only appropriate as a response to the song in which it is imbedded.  So in a single well-reasoned statement he disarms the entire idea of noise music without a context, or a song to anchor it, as empty.. masturbatory.  This same idea of a propriety or context for any ‘dancing’ that would take place, seemed to be in play.

The final memory I’ll mention is of one particular scene that starts with a conversation between the older man I mentioned earlier and the choreographer.  It is a conversation about the nature of reality and the reliability of the senses (or lack thereof).  To describe it in its entirety would be impossible, but as it goes on different pairs take up the conversation directly,  bringing a chorus of voices which switch pairings and move locations with a remarkable shuffling of chairs and positions.  The dialogue finally resolves to (something like): “You believe that your senses are real, what an idiot!” “Fuck you!” Indeed.

The last scenes peter out inexplicably, with one of the final images being enshrined on the festival brochure cover.  Miguel pulls with his teeth from inside of one of the dancers shirts a long piece of white fabric and afterwards stands with it in his mouth, leaving a long trail.  Just when a finale statement seems imminent the lights come up, and a stage hand ties knots in the curtains we entered through, thanking everyone for coming.  The end.

*Update: I just found an amazing video on Youtube of this man Ishmael Houston Jones, performing a duet with a cinder block during the Republican National Convention in 2009!!

Todd Dickerson

By Todd Dickerson

D. Todd Dickerson is an unpaid librarian, event planner, anthropologist, noise musician, and psychogeographer in Portland Or. He believes art and fashion should be harnessed as sorcerous technology for the advancement of humanity.

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