was right. When I interviewed the New York dance maker last week he explained Last Meadow, his work that had its world premiere as part of PICA'S TBA Festival last night
at the Winningstad like this: "“I think this show will go over really well with people who like to be confused
." Luckily, there's a lot more to the piece than disconnected imagery and cascades of movement and sound. Although, then again, there's a lot of that too.
Using scenes, dialogue and images from James Dean's last three movies (East of Eden, Rebel Without a Cause
) the piece tackles Gutierrez's feelings of disorientation while traveling--a sort of sensory dislocation--as well as his reaction to brain traumas a pair of loved ones suffered in the recent past. Last Meadow puts the brooding man-child's iconic cinema persona through a paper shredder
and pairs the results with haunting soundscapes pluked from the films' soundtracks among other sources from Neal Medlyn and expressive and fascinating movement from Gutierrez and his collaborators Tarek Halaby and Michelle Boule.
There's no narrative to be found here, but there are (at least as I took it) some interesting ideas about the difference between characters and flesh and blood people, the pain of loss and joy of movement as well as the meticulous act of translating ideas to choreography or scripts--all worked out on a bare stage stewn with lighting rigs, chairs and a microphone. Boule, a diminutive powerhouse clad in a Rebel
-ready red windbreaker, jeans and a goofy blond pompadour wig, takes on the James Dean persona, shuffling and shuttering through a wild catalogue of movie Deanisms--the twitches and squints, hunches and sniffs--sometimes in order to mimic the actor, and at others to call attention to the amazing detail that went in to crafting his persona. Halaby takes on the woman's role, his tall sylph-like person clad in a long blue skirt and Elizabeth Taylor bob, switching from siren to protector and true love depending on the scene. Gutierrez himself shows up as a madcap Sal Mineo, demanding dad and all around sex instigator, bullying and boffing his stage-mates in turn.
In its 90-minute run the piece is occassionally irritating and often truly moving.
A rambling monolouge about America that devolved into a mic-blow job a la the Cramps' Lux Interior was overlong and arduous, while Boule's precise directions to the trio on how to create a James Dean scene are fascinating from both a movement and a film geek perspective. There's sexy, plaintive singing, frenetic read throughs from scenes from East of Eden
, where each of the trio trade, chop and double lines from the movie's scripts. The use of such well known films through the audience a lifeline to understand the on stage action, we may not understand why Gutierrez is rubbing his shoe against Halaby's face like some giant leather phallus, but that's okay, later we'll catch up once all three start yelling "You're tearing me apart!!!" It's big and wild and, yes, confusing, but it also keeps your brain engaged from beginning to end.
And then, occassionally, there is the dancing: Virtuostic, loose-limbed and estatic, it eclipses the trio's careful interactions and literally strips away their Hollywood personas. It is a joy to watch all three of these dancers move (and witness how much they enjoy
moving), especially in the context of a show that so carefully and cleverly pins them in--through both movie scripts and the way people seems to interact in everyday life. Lost Meadow
's viewers might be lost now and again, but that's exactly where Gutierrez wants us.
Miguel Gutierrez and the Powerful People perform Last Meadow at the Winningstad Theatre, Portland Center for the Performing Arts, 1111 SW Broadway. 6:30 pm Saturday-Sunday, 8:30 pm Monday, Sept. 5-7. $15-$20. Miguel Gutierrez also leads his Death Electric Emo Protest Aerobics, a.k.a. DEEP Aerobics at The Works at Washington High School, 531 SE 14th Ave. 11 pm Wednesday, Sept. 9. $8-$10.
Drawing for Last Meadow by Miguel Gutierrez and photo of Last Meadow by Eric McNatt both courtesy of PICA.