A Year of Retrospectives

Memorable works and the 2005 artist of the year

Looking back at 2005, it’s hard not to remember two 20-year anniversaries in the dance world—Stephen Petronio and Urban Bush Women—that were also those companies’ best all-around concerts in years, both at The Joyce Theater in Chelsea. Look for Petronio’s “Bloom” set to an original score by Rufus Wainwright at The Joyce April 18-23.

Yanira Castro’s cold and indicting “Beacon,” presented by Dance Theater Workshop at The Brooklyn Lyceum, Batsheva’s humanizing “Mamotoot,” presented by BAM at Mark Morris Dance Group, Hilary Easton’s fresh, smart, witty, and vivacious “The Shortcut,” at Danspace Project at St. Mark’s Church, Andrea Haenngi’s site-specific and community consciousness-raising “blast wall art,” danced through the streets of DUMBO to Commodore Barry Park, Chunky Move’s theatrical spectacle in the round “Tense Dave,” Jerome Bel’s super literal “The Show Must Go On,” and Miguel Gutierrez’s artistically explicit “Retrospective Exhibitionist,” all at Chelsea’s own Dance Theater Workshop. These are the keepers, the ones that linger in the mind, the soul, and the body, even if they are never seen again.

No performance tested the audience so much as Gutierrez’ nearly two-hour autobiographical concert at Dance Theater Workshop. In his solo, “Retrospective Exhibitionist,” he exposes, literally and figuratively, verbally and physically, who he is; the fourth wall is absent. It is unpretty, unpretentious, personal, honest, and dance. Over the 75 minutes, we learn who he is, how his body works, and we see glimpses of post-modern dance history. Immediately afterwards, he shows us, through a trio called “Difficult Bodies” for three sequined lovely ladies—Anna Azrieli, Michelle Boulé, and Abby Crain—what he does, and an invisible curtain goes up. It is as refined and repetitive as his solo was raw and cumulative. Recycled materials, mediation and remediation, poetry, ambient beat box, and lip synching Destiny’s Child find their way into the process; the performers’ dedication is always complete.

For his concert, his curatorial success in January at Danspace Project at St. Mark’s Church with “Young Americans,” and his collaboration with Jonah Bokaer, Jeremy Wade, and Loren Dempster at Chez Bushwick with a monthly event that mixes new avant garde performance with coffee house culture called Shtudio Show, Gutierrez earns the moniker “2005’s dance artist of the year.” In the year of the first performance art biennial, PERFORMA 05, he’s an appropriate recipient.

In full disclosure, I personally haven’t seen a lot of dance since I became arts editor at Gay City News in September, even as we have expanded our coverage—veteran Eva Yaa Asentewaa and newcomer Nick Feitel have joined our team of dance writers. My brief and mostly barren affairs with the realms of theater, cinema, and visual art have revived my faith in and devotion to body-based performance.

2006 marks my 10th year writing about dance for Gay City News and LGNY; I never imagined the breadth and scope that existed, and at times still feel overwhelmed by the vibrant, critical mass of it all. New York City’s movement universe is thriving with great, big successes, brilliant, brimming failures, tiny masterpieces, and once in a lifetime experimental mistakes; every moment is a precious and historical step in our interdependent and ongoing cultural development, and an opportunity to affect it. We can define ourselves in relation to Europe, to the Western Hemisphere, to America, to the past or future, or to what certain critics write. Or we can leave the defining to the dance historians and just dance and make dances.

Like opinions masquerading as journalism, there’s something always a little cheap about top ten lists, or even top 100s. What about those three teenagers, doing their exceptional dancing and comedy routine on the subway? Best six minutes of dance? Or the strange allure of the Rooster Girls—I mean, are they ironic or are they for real? It’s fair to say that everywhere I look I find interesting dance going on. It might not always be my bag, but the audiences seem supportive, enthusiastic, willing. So I’d like to start the new year by congratulating everyone who danced, choreographed, composed, played, designed, stitched, fundraised, produced, publicized, photographed, videotaped, contributed to, and came to see bodies do their things live in public places. Hope to see and write about more of you in 2006.

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