Theater archives

We’re All in This Together: A Recipe for Joy?


At one point in Miguel Gutierrez’s Retrospective Exhibitionist at DTW in 2005, the choreographer announced that “everyone in this room is in this fucking dance.” In his provocative, fiercely physical new Everyone, he goes further. We’re all onstage. That is, the audience is seated at the rear of the Abrons Arts Center’s small stage, facing the black lining of the closed red velvet curtains. In this theater, formerly the Henry Street Playhouse, Alwin Nikolais created his earliest light-motion magic, but Gutierrez isn’t into illusion. When the dancers enter, one by one, they’re wearing sneakers, jeans, and what are probably this month’s favorite shirts. They take their time standing around gazing at us gazing at them (Laura Mulvey, “male gaze” maven, are you paying attention? This is Spectatorship 101). Composer musician Chris Forsyth turns dials to produce metallic beats with a slight reverb while audience and performers check each other out. Here stand Anna Azrieli, Michelle Boulé, and Abby Crain, who have been among Gutierrez’s Powerful People for some time, along with newbies Isabel Lewis, Daniel Linehan, Otto Ramstad, and Elizabeth Ward.

What is Everyone about? It’s about being together while maintaining space for being by yourself. It’s about cooperating and adjusting and trying things out in a world where flying off the handle and attempting to settle problems by violence are the norm. At least, that’s what I think it’s about. And it’s about these particular clever people, all of whom have contributed to Everyone.

The piece (co-sponsored by the Abrons and Danspace Project) is a series of episodes, sensitively bound together by Forsyth’s fine, subtle score (he not only adds his live guitar and keyboard playing to the mix, he joins the cast in choral speaking and in the final make-out scene). Lenore Doxsee’s lighting is subtle too, adding a touch of drama without violating the natural air of the choreography. This naturalness is in part a product of the performers’ manner. Whether improvising or executing an exact sequence, they’re always aware of one another, checking to see who’s doing what where.

Awareness is vital, since they approach every task with gut-busting fervor, be it galumphing around shrieking with laughter or speaking in meticulous unison. Once set on an activity, they don’t easily abandon it. They race back and forth across the space in an egalitarian line until sweat is pouring off them and they have to stand and wait for their breathing to calm down. Their “naturalness” is deliberately askew. Even children high on their own antics don’t maintain these dancers’ level of giddiness when they wrench one another into antic games. Rarely do we hear the personal account of a day that begins, “I went into the store to buy some peaches,” as a choral recitation—the individual magnified into a community.

About halfway through Everyone, the curtain slowly, slowly begins to rise, and there—oh wonderful!—is the front of the theater, its empty green seats lit like a stage set. The dancers climb down into it (Crain, who has begun to seem disconsolate and apart from the others, is the last to leave). They try sitting in one seat or another; some get a balcony view of us. A magical moment: When they lean forward along a row, one leg extended behind them, Doxsee lights them individually from below; they look as if they’re swimming in green velvet waves.

Interestingly, none of Gutierrez’s strategies to unite performers and audience involve anything as pat as getting us on our feet. He’d rather foment uncertainties about spectatorship. Standing amid the seats, the eight performers belt out the line, “When you rise up, you must sing songs,” so repeatedly and insistently off-key that you might think they wanted us to help them out. Instead they try it in high squeaky voices and deep ones, before charging back onto the stage and running right at us.

Gutierrez, aided by Forsyth’s music, manages transitions skillfully. After a section close to the end, the dancers take risky giant steps (clumsy leaps, really), land with a thud, balance on one leg for several long moments, and then, in remarkably perfect unison, leap again. A few partnering moves bring them into a clump, whereupon they remove their shoes, roll into pairs again, and begin very gently to nuzzle and kiss.

While their foreplay becomes greedier, Boulé starts to talk to us, loudly and clearly, musing about the passing of time in a creative life (“Oh, how many bad poems will I write this year?”). She reminds us that “we are in this place together” and says, “This is the last piece I made for you, yes. . .one down, so many more to go.” The words were written by Gutierrez, but Boulé owns them here and now. As she punctuates the speech with yesses and nos, she’s as passionate with her (his) thoughts as the couples are with their bodies. The scene is strangely moving. Fierce as she is, I’d like to go up and put my arms around her.

The couples wander away hand in hand. Boulé, alone onstage, turns up the volume on the amp and exits. I leave the stage feeling faintly optimistic about humanity and very happy—yes!—that I’ve seen Everyone.