Break-Up Dancing: Miguel Gutierrez at Abrons Art Center

Miguel Gutierrez in myendlesslove at Abrons Arts Center. Photo Ian Douglas.



On the heels of one of the major works of his career and the worst breakup of his life, choreographer Miguel Gutierrez created myendlesslove (2006), a short, raw dance about grief. Brooklyn-based Gutierrez incorporates song, text, movement and video into his performance pieces. He has created eight works with his company, Miguel Gutierrez and the Powerful People, and he often tours internationally. But he performed myendlesslove only once previously, at MIX, the queer experimental film and video festival in New York. The dance has been lovingly exhumed at the urging of his manager, and a restaged incarnation of myendlesslove is now at New York’s Abrons Art Center (through Oct. 19).

The sense of heartbreak in the one-hour piece is refracted and intensified through a cacophony of faces projected on screens and voices looped with delay pedals. As the audience enters, Gutierrez sits in a field of monitors wearing a sweatshirt and underpants, looking like Pan with his burly, bare hairy legs capped by hooflike black high heels. He flips a TV switch, and his own face fills the screen. Live and onscreen versions of Gutierrez banter about the performance, almost flirting. I’m “hot for it,” the live Gutierrez says; his image replies he hopes he’ll try “all the positions.”

The piece is carried along by sections of song and spoken text interspersed with movement and video. At times, Gutierrez sucks and blows on his harmonica, eyes dead, and shifting from foot to foot on a piece of white plastic. Each moment of song, dance or speech is a vignette. Scenes well up and switch direction like different coping mechanisms or moods. With the exception of the opening banter, myendlesslove is rendered in unflinching breakup-speak, some of which seems cribbed right from Gutierrez’s journal. “I went to the museum and I realized I love you,” says Gutierrez, walking slowly backwards towards the audience. “I went to the toilet, and I realized I love you.”

His steady-handed delirium, and his autobiographical bent, recall certain essayists who speak urgently from a queer periphery, like Wayne Koestenbaum or maybe even Chris Kraus. Gutierrez was born to dance a bad breakup-or, like these artists, endeavor to find the grace within fierce, socially unacceptable longing. As a performer, Gutierrez shifts quickly, exuding multiple personae at once: he looks like a sad clown; also, like a classical statue; also, like he’s going to the club alone, again.

In his program notes, Gutierrez calls myendlesslove “not-quite” solo. About halfway through, a nubile, nearly-hairless young man, who has been ghosting Gutierrez’s noisy onstage presence from the front aisle, slowly joins the performance. They engage in a series of increasingly graphic interactions. At first merely watching, the young man enters the space and climbs on top of a reclining Gutierrez, pressing his groin to his face. The “mystery man” gyrates gently, all of him or some of him dangling over or in Gutierrez’s mouth. Together they embark on a deftly choreographed blowjob dance.

Limbs flail and undulate but mouth and groin remain hovering in hot proximity. Gutierrez travels on his back crab-style, the “mystery man” deftly gluing his crotch to the vicinity of Gutierrez’s mouth. They stand with the practiced grace of performers or lovers, but the scene contains little tenderness. Beside them, an amateur porno plays on a tipped-back screen, the fucking angled up towards the ceiling. The bright blue background of a VCR glows, PLAY blinking neon in the corner of the screen. Before, the old monitors seemed gently retro: the way the images in paused VHS tapes still tremble with micro-movements echoed an earlier section of dancing set ecstatically to “It Feels So Good” by Sonique, who last topped UK charts in 2001. Now, in the midst of a joyless sexual pantomime, the technology all seems seedy.

The two men travel along the wall to the floor, where the “mystery man” leaves Gutierrez panting, huddled in a pool of light from the TV. It’s as vivid and disorienting as a flashback. All the wistfulness and the journaling are finished. This is when it gets bad, when the grief really starts. It’s the end of the night. Gutierrez begins to bellow. I think he said “I love you” and “Without you I can’t breathe,” but it was hard to make out the words, or to recall how a phrase had started by the time Gutierrez finished it. He drew out each syllable as long as possible. He sunk to the ground like a drunk and stayed there.

Gutierrez is a master of excess-not being an excessive performer, but rather examining the properties and tendencies of excess. That is why it is so lovely to see him perform this piece, which, though it is a restaging, has the feeling of a first draft-urgent and provisional in places, but containing deft gestures and daring turns of thought.