Dance Matters: Active Voice

Miguel Gutierrez’s new work at BAM



Gutierrez, with Hilary Clark and Ishmael Houston-Jones in background. Photo by Chris Cameron, Courtesy BAM. 


What’s on Miguel Gutierrez’s mind these days? (A fair question to ask about a guy who has had his performers and audience share the same stage space, or had lovely dancer Michelle Boulé impersonate James Dean.) From the sound of And lose the name of action—which premiered in September at Walker Art Center and is heading for BAM’s Next Wave Festival, Dec. 4–8—it’s the aging body and brain.


But wait. There’s more.


The Miguel Gutierrez & The Powerful People website ( proclaims, in big, fuschia-colored letters, “PROBABLY THE BIGGEST QUESTION I MAKE ABOUT ART IS: WHY ARE WE ALIVE.” Yet And lose the name of action, sometimes described as “a moving séance for the 21st Century,” ventures into the afterlife of ghosts. (The title is a Hamlet reference.) It’s still about bodies, just bodies that are no longer real.


But first, a choreographer needs bodies that are absolutely real. Gutierrez’s track record in collaborating with some of New York’s smartest young avantgarde artists is proven. This time, though, he felt moved to try something new.


“I realized that I had never worked with older people,” he says. “The choreographer is often the oldest person in the process. For all the lip service that we pay to being experimental, New Yorkers make a lot of conservative decisions around casting. You see lots of young, pretty, white ladies in dance in New York. I just wanted to put together a group of people who look really different.”


Besides Gutierrez, that really different-looking—and renowned—crew includes Boulé, Hilary Clark, Luke George, K. J. Holmes, and Ishmael Houston-Jones, ranging in age from 33 to 62.


“It’s funny how the casting has worked out,” he admits. “It’s purely alchemical, psychic weirdness.”


His imaginative curiosity drove research into concepts of “mind-body” in neurology, philosophy, somatics, and 19th-century spiritualism. He pored over The Perfect Medium: Photography and the Occult (from a 2005 show at the Metropolitan Museum of Art) and joined a South Florida ghost hunt that featured talk of the Confederate dead. His father’s struggle with neurological complications also shaped his concerns in the work.


Not revealing too much of the magic, Gutierrez allows that the audience at BAM’s new 250-seat Fishman Space can expect “possibilities of multiple perspectives.”


And lose the name of action also travels to Chicago’s Museum of Contemporary Art, Jan. 31–Feb. 3, and Seattle’s On the Boards, May 2–5.


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