because the personal is cultural
Last week, I was comparing Cindy Van Acker’s choreography to graphic design. This week, I couldn’t help but view Miguel Gutierrez’s Last Meadow through the lens of video art. It probably helps that, for this show, the New York choreographer is making extensive use of one of American cinema’s most iconic figures, James Dean.
It is as if Gutierrez had taken images from East of Eden, Rebel Without a Cause, and Giant, and reedited them using video to deconstruct them. After emptying them of much of the narrative by using repetition and distorting the dialogue, he reconstructs the moving images with an emphasis on gestures, making them tip over into dance. The process also becomes about deconstructing the myth of America itself.
While the performance is obviously a live one, Gutierrez predominantly uses coloured lighting (blue, red, purple, green, orange, pink) to flatten it into an image. It is as though he had dipped strips of films into dye to prevent any desire the viewer might have to see their image as realistic and to instead emphasize their cinematicness, their true nature as light filters and shapers.
By taking these straightforward narratives and turning them into an experimental work, Gutierrez evidently obscures their meaning and makes Last Meadow more opaque, more difficult to penetrate. This is not a bad thing. As a recent viewing of Rebel Without a Cause reminded me, while the film deserves its status as a classic, it also suffers from the same faults as many other 1950s films. That is to say that it capitalizes excessively on dialogue, the characters making abundantly clear every single one of the psychological motivations for their behaviour. While they are tormented souls, there is no mystery clouding their characters. As a result, they are prevented from ever becoming full-fledged individuals and instead emerge as the mere result of causal relationships, the fatalistic product of their environment. However, in the absence of a clear narrative, nothing is so simple in Last Meadow.
There is one more significant way in which Gutierrez tempers with his source of inspiration. While James Dean’s ambiguous sexuality has also made him a gay icon (no doubt helped by Sal Mineo’s character’s obvious crush on the star in Rebel), Gutierrez goes one step further in queering him. The role of Dean is played by Michelle Boulé, an Asian woman who won a Bessie Award for her performance. In turn, the role of Dean’s female lover is played by Tarek Halaby, a tall bearded man. As far as dance goes, he’s the one standing out, with his long straight legs that propel him into the air. For Gutierrez, who completes the love triangle in a Sal-Mineo-type character, they are not performing drag as much as acting like children playing dress up.
As the three dancers perform a series of arbitrarily codified movements of their own making while taking off their clothes, Lost Meadow suddenly gains a feeling of freedom. The weight of the past, with the endless repetition of memories, is finally lifted… just as it persists as haunting echoes. Ultimately, Last Meadow proves to be a most rewarding experience.
June 9 & 10 at 8pm; June 11 at 4pm
Conservatoire d’art dramatique – Théâtre Rouge
Tickets: 32$ / Under 31 & over 64 years old: 26$
has an MA in Film Studies and works in contemporary dance. His fiction has appeared in Headlight Anthology, Cactus Heart, and Birkensnake.
s.verstricht [at] gmail [dot] com