Sometime this spring I got a brochure in the mail for New York Live Arts, a modern dance festival. I’d never heard of them, and don’t you always wonder how you get on somebody’s mailing list? There were a few things that looked promising to me, and I’ve been meaning to see more dance, so I bought tickets for a grande old dame of the downtown dance scene (Valda Setterfield) doing an adaptation of *King Lear* next February, and a trilogy by Miguel Gutierrez called *Age and Beauty*. I will quote from the brochure:
“One of Live Arts’ most ambitious projects to date, *Age & Beauty* culminates with the Live Arts commission of the New York City premiere of Part 3 and the first presentation of the full series in one theater. Gutierrez’s highly anticipated three-part suite of queer performance works confront mid-life anxieties about age, mortality, queerness, and a future life in art.”
*Age & Beauty Part 1: Mid-Career Artist / Suicide Note or &:-/*
A duet for 44-year old Gutierrez and 25-year old performer/dancer mickey mahar. Moving from precise unison dances to an irreverent and celebratory corruption of orderliness, the work suggests modes of communication where hyper-emotional affect is not only the conceptual and choreographic core of the performance, but also the sole hope for continuing in this messed up world.
*Age & Beauty Part 2: Asian Beauty @ the Werq Meeting or The Choreographer & Her Muse or &:@&*
Featuring Gutierrez’s long time performer Michelle Boulé, manager Ben Pryor and lighting designer Lenore Doxsee, this piece harnesses retrospection and Gutierrez’s archives of his past work to demonstrate how relationships, money and flights of fancy are at the center of all art making.
*Age & Beauty Part 3: DANCER or You can make whatever the f- -k you want but you’ll only tour solos or The Powerful People or We are strong / We are powerful / We are beautiful / We are divine or &:*///*
The third and culminating chapter of the series. Performed by Gutierrez along with an intergenerational cast, the piece envisions a future dripping with lamentation, aspiration, melancholy, fantasy and doubt: a choreography for the end of the world.
Queer, theatrical modern dance! How could I pass it up? Plus Gutierrez looked really fabulous and sexy in the brochure photo: close-cropped black hair, dreamy eyes with a touch of gravitas, salt-and-pepper beard, black tape across the forehead, bare arms, layers of white tulle around the neck and hanging down the front. The photo, the description, the downtown venue, the queer content, the use of symbols in the titles: it all reeked of the 90s. I decided why the hell not, I’ll buy tickets for the whole trilogy. It was playing at 3, 6, and 8, three separate performances all in one day. This was the first time I remember buying tickets to a show mostly because I was looking forward to writing the review.
The performance space was an anonymous small theater on 19th Street between 7th and 8th. It felt like an auditorium at a small Midwestern college. The set was a white cube with designs on the floor in hot pink tape, and the symbols &:-/ along the back wall, also in hot pink tape. The two performers were onstage, Miguel Gutierrez and mickey mahar (lower case courtesy of the program). mahar is what my husband would call a skinny malink, tall and scrawny. He wore a pink fuzzy headband, an oversized white T-shirt, white shorts, no shoes. Guttierrez is a little more zaftig than he appeared in the photos in the brochure, which is not a problem with me. His hair is now bleached blond and he was wearing a ladylike one-piece hot pink floral print swimsuit. Years ago my husband told me a great joke:
Two old ladies are on vacation in Florida. They’re splashing about in the water, taking it all in, having a lovely time. Estelle says, “You know Gladys, you know what would make this moment perfect. I would love to have a cigarette.” And Gladys reached into her swimsuit and pulled out two cigarettes and a lighter. They lit up and Estelle asked, “How did you do that?” Gladys said, “I keep them in a prophylactic. That way they don’t get wet.” So the next morning Estelle went to the corner drug store and said to the man behind the counter, “Hello, I’d like to have a few of those prophylactics.” He said, “What size, ma’am?” And she said, “I don’t know, big enough for a Camel?”
This joke loses something when it’s written out, because of the capitalization of the word “Camel”, but you get the idea. Anyway, the reason I tell it: either Estelle or Gladys (or both) are wearing Miguel Gutierrez’s swimsuit.
There was music playing in the theater, it sounded like the love theme from a 1970’s French made-for-TV movie. mahan was on the floor near the back of the stage, warming up. Gutierrez was patrolling the front of the stage, talking to people in the audience, scolding them for sitting so far away. He passed around bottles of hot pink nail polish and encouraged people to use it. I’ve always loved the smell of nail polish, that turned out to be one of the high points of the performance.
The music went off and he did a five-minute intro to the piece. I understand that he wants to welcome people and tell them to turn off their cell phones, but I did not like him describing his process and inspirations and all that. That’s why God made program notes. But I was keeping my mind open - - I thought, “This could be saved by the dancing.”
The music came back on, throbbing dance club music, played very loud, too loud. He and mahan were dancing in unison for what felt like a long time. After about ten minutes I decided I would NOT be coming back for parts two and three. I’ve seen a lot of weird stuff over the years, but it’s not enough to be weird: it also has to be good.
The problem wasn’t the dancing, it was the choreography. The dancing was vigorous but not rigorous. There didn’t seem to be very much thought put into it. For example, in that long first section, where the two dancers are doing the same thing, why not add a little variety by having them mirror each other? Or one of them take a little break while the other continues dancing. It was impressive that they were able to memorize one pointless dance move after another, but memorization is not art. There was more of that at the end, when the two of them were simultaneously reciting a long semi-abstract text, repetitions and variations on the phrase “We are the dancers.” Thanks, I was wondering.
In the middle section Gutierrez stuck his head through the strap of mahan’s jock, and mahan dragged him along the floor by his neck. Memorable, but still… The ending hit on something pretty wonderful. Gutierrez put on a tutu, picked up a microphone, and sang. He has a nice voice and the lighting was gorgeous - - hot pink slowly phasing into hot purple, then hot peach, back to hot pink, etc. Gorgeous. I started to wonder if I really wanted to skip the next two parts, but eight satisfying minutes out of an hour, that’s not a ratio that works for me.
I passed a store for lease down the block, on my way home. They had two bright white male mannequins in the window, really hunky, one facing forward, the other facing back, with a splendid, meaty backside. Those two mannequins said more about age, beauty, and the queer aesthetic than anything I saw onstage.