Impressions of Miguel Gutierrez’s “Age & Beauty” Trilogy

Impressions of Miguel Gutierrez’s “Age & Beauty” Trilogy

Published on October 2, 2015
Photo: Ian Douglas

Presented by New York Live Arts in conjunction with FIAF’s Crossing the Line Festival 2015

Created by Miguel Gutierrez

Performed by Miguel Gutierrez and Mickey Mahar (Part 1); Guterrez with Michelle Boulé, Ben Pryor, Sean Donovan/Jaime Maseda (Part 2); and Gutierrez with Ezra Azrieli Holzman, Ishmael Houston-Jones, Alex Rodabaugh, and Jen Rosenblit (Part 3)

Getting older can, in a word, suck. It's not just the wrinkled brow, the creaky knees, the thinning hair and thickening waist. It's the feeling of irrelevancy, the creeping realization that the world has shifted its attention from you to the glossy young things who are pioneering new trends and fresh perspectives.

Gen-X choreographer Miguel Gutierrez seems to be taking it pretty hard. So much so, that he made not one piece but three about the topic. Presented in full at New York Live Arts in conjunction with FIAF’s Crossing the Line Festival, the Age & Beauty trilogy combines dance, text, song, and video to tease out the joys, the insecurities, and the vexations of a life that refuses to stop its forward progression. Life ends with death — which, for many of us, is the ultimate irrelevancy — but it’s how you get there that matters. Age & Beauty sashays rather than slogs, smirks rather than scowls, toward the final destination.

Mickey Mahar and Miguel Gutierrez extend their arms above their head with their right foot pointing in front of them
Mickey Mahar & Miguel Gutierrez, Age & Beauty Part 1: Mid-Career Artist / Suicide Note or &:-/, 2014, at Whitney Biennial 2014. Photograph by Ian Douglas. 

In Part 1, Gutierrez and millennial Mickey Mahar strut through spicy cheerleader routines studded with wrist circles and booty twitching, each action presented like a rhinestone: hard, sharp, garishly winking. Mahar, gangly with skin like half-and-half, acts as the ethereal naïf to Gutierrez’s brassy vamp. At one point, they repeatedly chant, “We are the dancers,” toying with pronunciation and emphasis to create tones ranging from stridency to pretension. Indeed, they are the dancers. Gutierrez and Mahar are a dissonant pairing in terms of age, appearance, and attitude, but watching their side-by-side shenanigans highlights all the ways dance can harmonize contrast.

Part 2 features a re-creation of conversations Gutierrez secretly recorded with work-husband Ben Pryor (he manages Gutierrez).  Sean Donovan (rotating with Jaime Maseda) plays a younger, taller, sexier Gutierrez, who says it would be “weird” to play himself. Alternately humorous and tedious, the exchanges drift from rehearsal schedules to Nelson Mandela’s death, from money woes to Pryor’s boyfriend’s 9” penis. The banter reveals that while Gutierrez has achieved a capitalist version of artistic success — money to make work and money to teach others about making work, he’s struggling, calling to himself as a “ghost” in his life. His intense frustration is seemingly embodied by Michelle Boulé (a regular performer for Gutierrez), her hair teased like an ‘80s pageant queen. In a choreographic collage from past Gutierrez collaborations, she flails and tumbles but is unable to disrupt the patter, an emotional tempest snubbed in favor of more prosaic concerns.

Michele Boule, in a fuschia dress, dances in front of two men seated at narrow table with computers in front of them

“Age & Beauty” Part 2: Asian Beauty @the Werq Meeting or The Choreographer & Her Muse or &:@&. Photo: Ian Douglas.

Part 3 takes place in a dystopian dancescape ornamented with busted disco balls and two screens glowing with feeds of streaks and drips. A quintet (including Gutierrez) wafts through and glowers to some unsettling electronica. They mess around in a puddle of crinkly lighting gels; sometimes, they approach the audience to sit or stroll through the in-the-round seating. Like a dream that goes on for too long, Part 3 idly oscillates between fanciful allure and banal weirdness.

Age & Beauty features plenty of experiential, indiscriminate movement, but traditional choreography — counts, phrases, unison — hasn’t been abandoned. Disco, in all its cheesy awesomeness, rules during these codified combinations. Movement silhouettes (thrusting pelvises and over-the-head gestures) are tinted with various moods: reflective, reflexive, boisterous, and sullen. This conventional approach to dancing works well in Part 1 as a comparison through coordination, but Part 2 is where it really triumphs. As the negotiating about bills and schedules drones on and on, you wonder why Gutierrez even bothers making art: He can barely make rent! But then, the cast gets down with some exuberant prancing to KC and The Sunshine Band’s “Keep It Comin’ Love,” instantaneously elevating their spirits and ours. It’s the physical answer to a question that Gutierrez will, likely, ask himself again and again. 

The performers of Part 2, cast in a pink light, sing towards the audience
“Age & Beauty” Part 2: Asian Beauty @the Werq Meeting or The Choreographer & Her Muse or &:@&. Photo: Ian Douglas.

As we journey through the three parts, it becomes increasingly obvious that the flashiness and quicksilver verbosity are superficial pleasures. Scrape away the surface, and what’s left is vast sadness, anguish that even the fiercest hip swing can’t camouflage. In Part 3, a recorded litany of life hacks — “This is how you hang your pants.” “This is how you pack a suitcase.” — convey the inanity of getting older: You get better at living, but does that bring more joy, more satisfaction, more space to do what you want when you want? Age & Beauty suggests the answer is no. You just keep on keeping on until there’s no more keeping on to keep on.

If you’re only as good as the company you keep, then Gutierrez is a rock star. Mickey Mahar may be wet behind the ears, but his spectral delicacy only sharpens Gutierrez’s brash antics. Michelle Boulé turns in a feverish performance, her energy pitched to extreme volumes. Elder statesman Ishmael Houston-Jones (Part 3) imbues each arbitrary action with significance and burnished execution. But it’s eight-year-old Ezra Azrieli Holzman (also Part 3), who steals the show. Gutierrez's godchild is a kid, lacking the technical and performative refinement of the others, but this kid is also an old soul. With no artifice and no augmentation, the eight year old ignites every moment, a comet shearing through the darkness.

Ezra Azrieli Holzman peers at the audience with his painted red fingernails reaching out
Ezra Azrieli Holzman in “Age & Beauty” Part 3: DANCER or You can make whatever the fuck you want but you’ll only tour solos or The Powerful People or We are strong/We are powerful/We are divine or &:’///. Photo: Ian Douglas.

During Part 3, the cast asks, “Are you scared of the future?” If you’ve watched all three parts of “Age & Beauty,” probably you should be. But even with the desolation and frustration and utter helplessness invoked, hope still glimmers. Before the lights go down, Gutierrez’s godchild makes a quip about loving show business (a hat tip to Bob Fosse), and the razzle dazzle of live performance seems as good as any as a remedy for all this existentialist dread. It seems Gutierrez might agree. In Part 1, he brags he can make pieces forever, a hint, perhaps, that “Age & Beauty” isn’t a renunciation but more a bravado reconciliation to the inevitability and possibility of art, and life.  


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