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  •  REVIEW: DAMNATION ROAD

      dAMNATION rOAD
    Road trip leaves powerful people terrorized but enlivened

    In Miguel Gutierrez and the Powerful People's new "dAMNATION rOAD," the dancers and the audience are led down a provoking path that investigates terror, mortality and ear damage.

    By ELEANOR BAUER
    Offoffoff.com


    There is an eerie, Lynchian filmic quality to Miguel Gutierrez's "dAMNATION rOAD," established immediately by Swiss artist Christoph Draeger's car crash/junkyard set installation and fulfilled by the Powerful People's dramatic performance. In a photographic moment of stillness at the start of the piece, Abby Crain sits behind the wheel of a wrecked car, with Tarek Halaby sprawled prone across its hood. As the performance unfolds, I experience fear, confusion, sympathy, alienation and utter fascination with the vaguely established characters. Fritz Welch heaves and screams into a microphone with distortions and feedback that echo scraping metal, as Jamie Fennelly tweaks electro-acoustic signals to a similarly jarring effect. Together, the two are the experimental electronic group aptly titled Pee in My Face with Surgery, responsible for the audio portion of Gutierrez's full-throttle, in-your-face performance running through January 31st at the Kitchen.

    DAMNATION ROAD
    Company: Miguel Gutierrez and the Powerful People.
    Choreography by: Miguel Gutierrez in collaboration with the dancers.
    Dancers: Anna Azrieli, Michelle Boulé, Abby Crain, Miguel Gutierrez, Tarek Halaby .
    Music by: Pee In My Face with Surgery.
    Set design by: Christoph Draeger.
    Costumes by: Parker Lutz.
    Lighting Design: Lenore Doxsee, Hair by Dave Hickey
     SCHEDULE
    The Kitchen
    512 West 19th St. (btw. 10th and 11th Ave.)
    Jan. 22-31, 2004

      
    Michelle Boulé is guided onto the set blindfolded and with arms bound. Left to navigate the trashy corner bedroom of the set, she fumbles around a bare mattress, rack of clothes, turns on a static radio and delicately wrestles a blowing fan. All of these moments so potentially menial are made both heartbreaking and engrossing by context and Boulé's honest execution. In her wanderings, she shakes, rocks, trembles and thrashes with a persistence that speaks of frustration, fear, numbness, and hints at sexual urge. Such innuendos, which are present but not primary, communicate a spent, vulnerable, exhausted version of carnal aggression.

    Also physically bound but representative of something else entirely, Gutierrez and Anna Azrieli are zipped together inside of one sweatshirt hoodie. Together they constitute the two-headed phantom of ultra-cool. They haunt Boulé, nonchalantly twinkling their fingers and staring into the audience with seductive confidence. The bizarre, other-worldliness of this aloof couple is only augmented by the contrasting banality of the set, setting up a dream-like mystical realism where car crash victims writhe back to life and men dressed in khaki uniforms wrestle over clanging clusters of empty oil cans. Denied of sight and full mobility, our heroine/protagonist struggles to understand these elements as much as we do, and yet her actions seem to conduct the synchronicity of events in this screwy reality.

      
      I've had to stomp on dance a little bit...
      — Miguel Gutierrez
      
    Over the course of "dAMNATION rOAD," the quotidian movements are increasingly replaced by expressionistic virtuosity, marked by precariously violent duets and Halaby's thrashing solo. When Abby Crain takes the stage alone for an expansive phrase of grace and serenity countered by loud surges of noise, (her earplugs are pure necessity) it is like the end of a horrible dream — perhaps Boulé's dream — being ushered out by the most ruthless alarm clock. Eventually all of the Powerful People, including a bondage and blindfold-free Boulé, are participating in this juxtaposed motif of adagio dance versus grinding noise-pulse, all of which is abruptly concluded when Fennelly stops playing and walks away.

    What is this all pointing towards? How did what started out so theatrical and cinematic become a lovely giant dance phrase? Why are they dancing at all? How can dance possibly relate to death, disaster, and angry nihilism? "dAMNATION rOAD" successfully provokes the very questions that inspired its creation. "A lot of this piece comes out of a frustration and confusion that so many artists are experiencing right now about dance, which is, why do we do it?" reveals Gutierrez in a recent interview with Time Out NY. "In some ways, I am trying to destroy my perception of what I assume dance has to be...I've had to stomp on dance a little bit...Why spend our whole lives learning the nuances about our moving bodies when we're all going to die? The paradox is the incredible sophistication you have as a dancer and the banal truth of mortality."

    Rather than succumbing to the defeatism or creative paralysis that easily threatens an artist constantly challenging and questioning his medium in this way, Gutierrez loudly embraces the frustration, confinement and disorientation caused by such questioning, and turns it into subject matter. In confronting head-on his problems with dance while allowing dance to be a part of the solution, Gutierrez has taken on a large challenge and willingly hurled himself down what may have looked a damned road. It is no wonder that the movement in the piece was generated by corporeal investigations of terror.

    There is an optimistic message within the disturbing landscape of "dAMNATION rOAD" for those invested in dance. After all, Boulé is eventually (and mysteriously) freed of her initial handicaps, and the musicians storm out at the end, not the Powerful People. In a very simplistic way it seems that the entire progression of the piece builds to assert the importance in of uninhibited movement. This is not to say that the music and the dance are diametrically opposed: the words so abrasively delivered by Welch are "I AM NOT DEAD." Regardless of tone of delivery, the content implies some level of rejoice or gratitude.

    A large billboard on the set reads "AVAILABLE" with Gutierrez's own phone number. Gathering from Gutierrez's meta-choreographic modus operandi, this omniscient gesture becomes an open invitation to criticize, indulge, analyze, ingest, destroy, accept, or reject all that he places onstage. Indeed the reactions incited by the piece are this varied, but more importantly they are all strong. In creating "dAMNATION rOAD," Gutierrez has taken chances and gone new places, yielding compelling, provocative, and challenging results.

    JANUARY 28, 2004
    OFFOFFOFF.COM • THE GUIDE TO ALTERNATIVE NEW YORK


    Reader comments on dAMNATION rOAD:

  • looking for Gutierrez   from diego, Jun 28, 2006

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