Miguel Gutierrez

Last Meadow explores James Dean, love triangles and the collapse of America.

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DEAN MACHINE From left, Boul, Halaby and Gutierrez get into character.

DEAN MACHINE From left, Boul, Halaby and Gutierrez get into character. Photograph: Eric McNatt

Miguel Gutierrez is thinking a lot about imaginary places. His new dance-—a trio for Michelle Boul, Tarek Halaby and himself-—loosely explores a state of collapse and regeneration, all the while flittering in and out of James Dean movies. Last Meadow (which will be performed at Dance Theater Workshop beginning Tuesday 15) takes on Dean’s seductive quality in East of Eden, Rebel Without a Cause and Giant, while also playing with the idea of a love triangle. Gutierrez, 38, spoke about his new work—his first large-scale production in two years—and his hope to create something from another world.

Why did you become inspired by the mythology of James Dean?
During one of my trips I borrowed my friend’s East of Eden DVD. It was a double-DVD set, and the movie was missing. I was like, Oh fuck—I’ll just watch the special features. They had all these wardrobe tests of Julie Harris, James Dean and Dick Davalos where they were just trying on the different outfits. They were very beautiful, little silent films and basically dances. Suddenly, I got the whole James Dean thing: He’s so sexy and elusive and kind of queer.

Did you bring his movies into the studio right away?
Yes. Part of the interest for me was related to the shows I’d been doing. My situation of making work was unearthing an internal landscape, and I was interested in the idea of pilfering from an external landscape and in questioning my relationship to emotional authenticity. One of the things that people say about the work is, “Oh, it’s so honest, it’s so real,” and I think that’s nice--—but this is a theater. It’s also “honesty” or “realness” as a texture. I was interested in the blurriness of those things, and I increasingly feel like I don’t even know what’s real anymore in the theater. So it just felt right to go to this nonreal space. There’s a simplicity to the structure of it. James Dean made three movies; there are three of us. All the movies are love triangles basically.

You constantly refer to physical and emotional triangles.
I like that tension in the space. I play with perception; sound gets swallowed by music, which gets swallowed by light. These things move forward and backward. As dancers, one of the aspects of the training is about honoring the intelligence of your feelings, which is not necessarily valued in a lot of places. I also feel like I’ve been valuing a different kind of texture of perception over the last year in terms of the performances I see. I don’t want to give it all away: This is the idea, and I’m laying it out. I’m really interested in imagination right now.

In this interview, you’ve used the word texture to describe your work several times. What do you like about that word?
It literally evokes the idea of touch and, increasingly, I experience perception as touch. When I’m intrigued by performance and dance, what I’m experiencing are these ethereal, invisible textures that are forming and unforming, and braiding and unbraiding. It’s rare. I don’t always experience it, but when I do, it’s like a tangibility that is constructed through an intangible thing in space.

Or the opposite: the intangible becoming tangible?
It’s true. When I’m excited by what I’m seeing, it’s a very intense bifurcated experience of being super conscious of my body and at the same time it’s as if my body, while not irrelevant, is not there. I’ve been in the audience and thought, I don’t know where I am!

James Dean represents a misunderstood generation. Is there a quality about your work that people don’t understand?
I don’t know. I feel lucky that the work is supported. Obviously something is being communicated enough for people to want it to exist. I think, for me, the test is to keep putting the work out on this level, to this variety of audiences, and to let it live and see what happens. It’s scary because you want to feel like you’re making the new, special thing, but I just want people to see it; if they don’t see it then they’re making decisions on what they hear or imagine, and I’m just like, Look at the fucking thing. Then whatever you want to feel has nothing to do with me.

Last Meadow is at Dance Theater Workshop Tue 15--Sept 19.

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