Miguel Gutierrez Names the Action
Text: Adam Whitney Nichols
The legendary performer, Ishmael Houston-Jones, holds court with the air of a crooked guru. He bids the audience to join hands for “a cleansing breath” and leads the other dancers (who sit with the audience) in a rousing chorus of chant and song: “Open your eyes, see the light, squeeze my hand.” The audience happily abides.
It is the most meditative moment of Miguel Gutierrez’s, And Lose the Name of the Action, his premier at BAM, which ran until December 8th. The incantation is the “open sesame” into his head: a sensitive moment that excites an audience suddenly immersed in performance. On the portal’s other side is a psychedelic journey that is often enigmatic. This is to be expected. The title of the show is in the last line of Hamlet’s famous soliloquy (hint: it begins with a question), and is a heavy mandate for a performance piece, even one based on improvisation. Gutierrez’s performance explores the millisecond moments between thought and action and, most interestingly, when sublime thought becomes theoretical, monotonous, and banal.
Gutierrez became interested in the relationship between cognition and movement when his father suffered from “stroke-like neurological problems.” He prefers theoretical approaches to brain function, whether in academia or movement. And Gutierrez employs performers ready for the monumental challenge. Michelle Boulé, especially, whose improvisation is bewitching and so effortless, her twists and jumps seem to manifest without a moment’s thought. She is a revelatory signpost in Gutierrez’s journey.
The performance runs on three screens around the stage. There, Paul Duncan (notably from Boardwalk Empire) waxes as Hamlet, often in repetition and contradiction. In these speeches the audience best understands Gutierrez’s method. At one point, Duncan says, “I am speaking, I am here.”
As the piece closes, the video begins to skip. Duncan no longer speaks, but is stuck in movement. This is the axiom of Gutierrez’s spectacle of wonder: I am moving, I am here… The most complex thoughts are often lost, when said aloud.