Miguel Gutierrez and the Powerful People at the Walker Art Center

Miguel Gutierrez and the Powerful People at the Walker Art Center
Photo by Alex Escalante

You know you might be in for a doozy when you're reading the program notes before a show and the artist says that some of his favorite artists are ones that the general public wouldn't have "access" to. In an interview in the program for "And lose the name of action" by Miguel Gutierrez and the Powerful People, Gutierrez says, "When people don't understand something, there's often a jump right away to dislike, or to 'this thing failed to sell itself to me.' I think, 'No, you maybe didn't give yourself permission to not understand it.'" 

Miguel Gutierrez and the Powerful People at the Walker Art Center
Photo by Ian Douglas

There's something quite vainglorious about his comments, as if us poor pedestrians need to be cajoled and trained into truly appreciating his greatness. It's funny, because there are quite a few moments in "And lose the name of action," that really are quite accessible, although as a whole you get a sense that the performers are having more fun than the audience. 

Wednesday night was the premiere of the work, which was commissioned by the Walker Art Center and developed in part last September in a residency at the museum. It is inspired in part by Jørgen Leth's short film The Perfect Human (an odd little piece that shows two "perfect" humans, zooming in on their body parts and watching them go about their day, dancing, eating, etc.) and also explores the 19th century spiritualist movement, dance improvisation, and "philosophical quandaries about the brain," according to the artist's website.

The most entertaining section of the performance was near the beginning, when the performers acted out a kind of séance. Ishmael Houston-Jones, accompanied by piano music and the sound of a metronome, implores the audience to hold hands, and guides them into a meditative trance-like state whilst the performers, who have joined the audience, create a wonderful vocal slide-filled moment, followed by the lights going down. "Okay," Houston-Jones says afterward. "Welcome back." It's a very fun little section, which gets the audience to participate in the performance and engages them in an exciting way. 
Miguel Gutierrez and the Powerful People at the Walker Art Center
Photo by Ian Douglas

The séance is followed by a dance section, where the performers move in a falling, highly gestural manner. Michelle Boulé emerges as a central figure, possibly because she is wearing all black, whereas the rest of the cast is wearing neutral or white costumes with little accoutrements like a crown, a hint of a mime get-up, etc. Boulé also stands out because she is such a gorgeous dancer to watch. Her body is so unbelievably buoyant and supple as she falls to the ground and comes back up again with such ease. Perhaps she is supposed to be the mortal, and the rest are all ghosts? Eventually, Houston-Jones, who eventually ends up naked, goes through a kind of transition, exiting through a white curtain, journeying onto death, presumably.

Miguel Gutierrez and the Powerful People at the Walker Art Center
Photo by Ian Douglas

The séance and death sections are all really interesting and engaging, but for some reason Gutierrez has put in all this other stuff about the improvisation and performance process that really doesn't work at all. He inserts these moments where the performers mumble to each other, with little regard for the audience, which is really off-putting. The theater is not a private place. It's not a place where you get to just work out whatever happens to be on your mind. There's actually a paying audience that would like very much to be let in on whatever you have to say, and there were some moments that were really just masturbatory. 

There was one section where the performers read from scripts, laughing diligently at the "everyone laughs" cues, which can be clearly seen in the large print scripts. This section uses simultaneous speaking, but it would have worked better if the performers actually were able to speak simultaneously. As it was, they were a little off, and it was hard to follow. The section ended up dissolving into chaos, where you had absolutely no idea what they were saying. 

The video-work, on the other hand, was excellently well done. Created by Boru O'Brien O'Connell with actor Paul Duncan, the videos, projected on two screens and a white curtain, offered an intriguing and thoughtful escape from the at times over-stimuli of what was happening onstage. 


Miguel Gutierrez and the Powerful People: And lose the name of action
8 p.m. Thu.-Sat.; 3 p.m. Sun.
Walker Art Center
1750 Hennepin Ave., Minneapolis

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Walker Art Center

1750 Hennepin Ave.
Minneapolis, MN 55403


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