Hot Pink Heaven: Queer Utopia at American Realness

by Megan Wright

Age & Beauty Part 1: Mid-Career Artist/Suicide Note or &:-/
Miguel Gutierrez (in collaboration with Mickey Mahar)
co-presented by American Realness and Gibney Dance

This work, the first part of an as-yet-unfinished trilogy, opened with a series of dense, precise unison duets that highlighted the two performers’ variations in affect. Miguel Gutierrez, 43, was warm and sexy, rocking golden hair and a pink flowered swimsuit; his collaborator Mickey Mahar, 24, was pale and less assured, but diligent to the point of doggedness. I mention their ages in the spirit of the writing that Gutierrez has done in relation to this performance. This was no #itgetsbetter adventure story. At no point did Gutierrez posit himself as Mahar fast-forwarded twenty years. Rather, the piece is an exploration in aging, alongside queerness, sustainability, and the representation of the dancer.

It’s also an exploration of futurity. Gutierrez dedicates Age & Beauty Part 1  to the late theorist José Muñoz, whose 2009 book Cruising Utopia critically engages the pragmatism that is the hallmark of current LGBT politics. This pragmatism upholds assimilation into the present system as its goal, as evidenced by the amount of work that’s been done since the 90’s towards securing marriage and military service rights. Muñoz argues that the queer community needs to abandon this trend of “presentism” in favor of futurity, or imaginative forward thinking.

The outlines of queer futurity’s utopia are historically derivative to the point of being nostalgic. (In the case of gay men, it often looks like a time before AIDS.) When Gutierrez and Mahar executed the same movement side-by-side and twenty years apart, they opened up a space much like the present Muñoz believes the queer community should acknowledge. It’s a space where the best times may be already gone, but may also be yet to come.

After the complex visual pleasure of the opening, a middle section of improvisation got muddy fast. Mahar’s tumbling and loping allowed him to come into his own body as the tight duets hadn’t, but the drifts of his attention began to seem childish. Gutierrez haphazardly tore up a strip of pink tape from the floor and ate it, dismantling what had felt like a carefully laid out design element. Perhaps this was an exercise designed to display futility, or to call attention to the viewer’s own expectations about traditional modes of artistic production and performance; but the low investment in effort made it uncompelling. Nor was there enough destruction to merit the length of the exploration.

But the final section was foamy and redemptive, cued by the performers donning angel-white tulle dresses. Gutierrez, armed with a mic and a sound mixer, filled up the studio at 280 Broadway with roaring, echoing loops of sound — a pink-lit heaven of his own voice’s making. It was a vindicating rejection of the description, earlier in the work, of dancers as “voiceless,” and didn’t cease until the last audience member had left.

Simone Aughterlony
presented by American Realness

If Miguel Gutierrez used Age & Beauty Part 1 to create a hot pink fag utopia, then Simone Aughterlony did the same work on behalf of dykes. Audiences entering the Harry De Jur Playhouse at the Abrons Arts Center were greeted with the sight of Aughterlony and her collaborator Antonija Livingstone armed with axes and sweating their way through the task of chopping apart piles of firewood laid out on the bright pink floor of the stage. On one side of the stage, Hahn Rowe put a violin, bubble wrap, tuning forks, and a Mylar shock blanket to use in service of creating a rasping soundscape.

Livingstone and Aughterlony quickly shed a first round of outfits, the better to contrast their female biologies with the stereotypically masculine work they were doing. Even once obvious sex acts (with axe handles, with tree limbs, with each other) came into play, little about the work felt pornographic. Perhaps that was due to the performers’ playfulness or their occasional air of concentrated detachment. Most importantly, as at the end of Gutierrez’s piece, they’d opened up a utopian space, distinctly queer in that normative modes of production (read: reproduction) had been abandoned. All this was happening before pornography and gender roles existed, or after a civilization that ordered such things had ceased to exist.

The audience — perhaps accustomed to the drier fare presented earlier that week at the same venue— didn’t quite know what to make of what was going on. The women responded by upping the blatant humor. Aughterlony strolled around the stage with a heavy rope strung over her shoulders, in a child’s imitation of a supermodel in a fur stole. Livingstone went so far as to plant herself naked on an upturned stump, arm herself with two axes, and imitate a forklift; Rowe obligingly lowered the volume on his sound so her “beep beep, beeeep!” could be heard.

In shedding the arc offered by a traditional choreographic structure in favor of an improvisatory one, Aughterlony created a sense of perpetuity. She and Livingstone wiped off sawdust and rolled in it again; they swapped clothes, removed them, got them on halfway, and lost them again; they spliced chunks of wood smaller and smaller and then kicked them aside without use. Lots got done, but nothing too much happened. The thought of this going without question was radical enough. This was Eve and Eve at the end of the world, engaged in pursuits perhaps forbidden or fruitless, but altogether without censure or shame.

Megan Wright grew up in Portland, Maine, where she began her dance training. She graduated cum laude from the Walnut Hill School in 2009 with honors from the ballet and English departments, and briefly attended Barnard College in New York before moving to San Francisco to join the Lines Ballet Training Program. She is a member of the Margaret Jenkins Dance Company, and has performed with Katharine Hawthorne, Maurya Kerr’s tinypistol, Hope Mohr Dance, Robert Moses’ KIN, Sharp & Fine, and others.  She is currently an ODC Administrative Fellow for Hope Mohr Dance as part of Mohr’s artist residency at ODC Theater. 

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[...] Megan Wright  is currently an ODC Administrative Fellow for Hope Mohr Dance as part of Mohr’s artist residency at ODC Theater.  See more of her writing here.  [...]