Miguel Gutierrez’s intensely lovable, crowd-pleasing “Everyone” is a great kickoff to the twentieth year of the Walker’s alternative performance showcase, Out There. What makes this modern dance import from New York such a happy experience?
There are the aptly named Powerful People, Gutierrez’s cast of eight—eight individuals of different sizes, different looks, different styles, all attractive in their distinctive flaws, who dance and play with such energy and abandon that you can’t help feeling affectionate toward them. There are many lovely moments; for example, when the curtain finally opens approximately two-thirds of the way through the show (did I mention you’ll be sitting at the back of the stage, watching the dancers perform from the stage space?) and the performers go out into the seats, “flying” in extended arabesques all over the theater, making the McGuire space look like a toy playhouse. Or there’s the breathless moment when the performers come running straight at the audience. Or the lovely kaleidoscopic patterns in one section, corps de ballet in sneakers and T-shirts. Or—well, there are many others, but I’ll leave you to discover them on your own.
What I want to bring to light is one of the mechanisms of delight that Gutierrez employs, repetition. Each section of this performance is a loop, often of tightly structured improvisation, running over and over before moving on to the next loop. (An example: The dancers stand on one foot for a long time, then at a certain signal strenuously leap to the other foot. Each leap, direction, and ending pose is the dancer’s choice.) This may not be the greatest strengthener of overall form—the sections don’t always seem related to each other—but on the smaller scale, it works so well that any overall flaws can be overlooked. How does it work?
The first couple of times you see one section, you’re just figuring out what you’re seeing (classical ballet usually repeats twice and goes on). In the next few repetitions, you might find yourself becoming impatient and irritable: “Well, all right, move on,” you might find yourself thinking. But Gutierrez and the Powerful People don’t move on. Instead, they keep going, and something else happens to your mind. You start watching not the gist of the movement but the individual parts—seeing, almost in slow motion, the articulation of one performer’s hand, the readiness in another’s face. You see beauty in the dancers, in their movements. Then you start understanding the game the performers are playing, the rules for each section, and your eyes trace potential outcomes. Will she jump this way or that way? How will he get out of the box he’s in?
Finally, you begin to want to play along with the dancers—it looks like fun, and more than fun, it looks like experience, real life. And that’s when Gutierrez moves on. Performance can do a lot of different things for us; Gutierrez chooses to entertain at the same time that he suggests it’s necessary for us to move and act. “Everyone” works as a powerful reminder of the activity of life.
“Miguel Gutierrez and the Powerful People: Everyone” continues at the Walker Art Center though Jan. 12.