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Saturday, September 8, 2012

Miguel Gutierrez Tells and Shows in Heavens What Have I Done

Posted by Alison Hallett on Sat, Sep 8, 2012 at 2:11 PM

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  • Ian Douglas
Miguel Guiterrez walks onto Washington High's empty stage. "Hi," he say. "Hi," the audience dutifully responds. "So," he says, "my piece has already started."

In his disarming new show Heavens What Have I Done, the New York-based Gutierrez invites the audience onstage to witness firsthand the anxiety, excitement, and inspiration that goes into creating a performance piece. Much of the show takes the form of a deceptively casual monologue, as Gutierrez—face painted, fake eyelashes in place—jokes and rambles his way through his preparations for a piece. Early in the monologue, Gutierrez mentions a stint he did as a teacher at a dance school, where he found a disconcerting sameness in the student work he was seeing: It was as though, he explains, the students felt they had to erase themselves before going onstage, to limit their entire presentation and focus to a single idea. Heavens What Have I Done is an explicit rejection of that approach: Gutierrez brings everything onstage. In a literal unpacking of baggage, as he prepares his set and dresses in a clownish costume, Gutierrez shares his insecurity about his intelligence, his desire to impress a judgmental ex-boyfriend, his philosophical interest in the notion of binary constructs like gender and the mind/body split, and how much, exactly, his shoes cost. (I won't attempt to analyze the symbolism of the pennies he rains upon the stage at one point.)

When Gutierrez finally begins to dance, it's a forceful, aggressive assertion of his right—as a gay man, as the son of immigrants, as an aging dancer having trouble fitting into his skinny jeans—to make art on his own terms. In a ruffled rainbow collar and a Marie Antoinette wig, looping French phrases and singing along with opera, his show appropriates bits of Western "high culture" in order to effectively subvert our often-unquestioned assumptions about ownership and participation.

That's what I got out of it, anyway. Gutierrez had a few harsh words in the piece about festival programs, which glibly attempt to pin a performance down to words—but it's kind of my job, and that's what I came away from the show thinking about.

A few more stray thoughts: (1) Don't wear a short skirt. (2) The piece has a conversational tone, but that doesn't mean you need to do any talking. Seriously, no one likes that guy.

Gutierrez performs two shows, tonight at tomorrow at 6 pm at Washington High. Reservations are required for passholders; individual tickets are $20. Details here.

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