It is still a novelty, and thus a big deal, for a choreographer to be in the Whitney Biennial. The last Biennial, in 2012, was the first to include choreographers, and Sarah Michelson and Michael Clark responded with big statements, spreading their dances across an expanse of the Whitney Museum of American Art’s fourth floor.
On Thursday, Miguel Gutierrez began his stint more modestly, in a small, curtained-off gallery. Before genially introducing himself and the dancer Mickey Mahar, he passed around bottles of pink nail polish for audience use.
Mr. Gutierrez wasn’t wearing much — just a one-piece woman’s bathing suit in a pink floral print. But he had dyed his hair and beard blond and had applied some pink raccoon streaks around his eyes. Mr. Mahar, in T-shirt and shorts, looked attired for gym class, except for the white powder and sequins on his face.
And at first, the two men didn’t do all that much. To some “dirty beats” by the D.J.s Silvio Ecomo & Chuckie, they performed a routine of club moves. Some moves were sexually suggestive, but the manner was largely indifferent. What seemed significant was how the 42-year-old Mr. Gutierrez was dancing side by side and in unison with the 24-year-old Mr. Mahar. The title of Mr. Gutierrez’s piece is “Age & Beauty Part 1: Mid-Career Artist/Suicide Note or &:-/.”
That compare-and-contrast exercise was followed by a structural one, as the music repeated and the men duplicated some parts of the routine independently, showing how the pieces — especially the sexually suggestive ones — connected. They spent the second repeat in a slow-motion advance toward a kiss — revealing the subtext, perhaps, of the first two versions.
Later the comparison was sequential, as the two men took solos. Mr. Mahar, bouncing off the walls and licking them, seemed to embody a life stage you might be eager to grow out of. But Mr. Gutierrez was just as reckless, only heavier in his stumbles and crashes.
After the two men reunited, Mr. Mahar exulted in the buoyancy of his jumps, yet Mr. Gutierrez, dragging him down, kept the power dynamic in flux.
This was all somewhat intriguing, but Mr. Gutierrez knows how to push a work to higher plane. Throughout the dispassionate arrangements of steps and gestures, rage and pain kept flashing, and at the end Mr. Gutierrez let them loose. He sang. He sang into a microphone, wearing a dress of tulle, in a kind of defiant karaoke fantasy, but more than that, he made his material sing, transmuting it into emotional expression.
“We are the dancers” was one of the phrases that he and Mr. Mahar repeated in a funny, affecting, unsettling and suspenseful sequence of associative logic, doggerel and double entendre that both faced hard, pebble-like facts about aging and knocked them aside. Another phrase was “I could make pieces forever, but I won’t.”
This work is the first in a proposed series, and how to end a piece about not ending proved a challenge. Mr. Gutierrez said, “You can leave now,” and repeated the phrase in profane variations until everyone left.Continue reading the main story