Another look at GUTTER GATE

Juliana May is smart and brave.  Her recent Gutter Gate at Dance Theater Workshop was deeply investigated, thoughtfully rendered, and expertly performed.  It was also panned by lazy and ill-informed criticism.  This is unfortunate, unfair, and underlines the broader issue that we cannot allow “press” to become the definitive written record of performance.  To this end, I plan to interview Juliana about Gutter Gate in a few months, as part of my archival dramaturgy project.  In the meantime, I offer this as an alternative point of view, to the nonsense that has been previously published about the work:

Gutter Gate swings open with an assured confidence, and makes you catch your breath.  The piece moves with an energy that nearly pulls you off your seat, shapeshifting so deftly and constantly that you must pick up your mental pace to keep up with the swiftly turning kaleidoscope of ideas.  And you want to keep up.

Juliana F. May’s choreography, for her company MAYDANCE, includes deep, rigorous exploration of systems of the body and somatic awareness.  This research yields performances that appear effortlessly grounded and almost eerily present.  The performers (Benjamin Asriel, Madeline Best, Anna Carapetyan, Eleanor Smith, and Maggie Thom) seem to be at once very much of this earth, and somehow transcendent.  They are fluidly gorgeous, straightforward and daring, subtle, and honest.  It was a joy to watch them cannily navigate May’s complex world, which was lit, with equal assurance and restraint, by Chloe Z. Brown.

The music, by Chris Seeds, with some contributions from Michael Tritter and Ian Ball, propelled the piece with clever timing, a sense of humor, and an appetite for investigation on pace with the choreography.  Here was a work in which choreography, performance, and design were so wholly integrated, that the effort required to make them so was nearly invisible.  Even the costumes, which I’ll assume were selected by May, as no designer is credited in the program, were crucial, and yet, deceptively simple.  Unassuming, the costumes provided frames for revealed skin, and a context of contemporary life.

Truly, there was so much detail and craft in Gutter Gate that my first viewing, and this review, have only scratched the surface.  I hope that we all get a chance to see it again, and give this layered tour de force its due.

This entry was posted in Discussion. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Another look at GUTTER GATE

  1. Jeremy M. Barker says:

    Sarah, it’s kinda mean to write it off as “ill-informed,” and if you read what I wrote, you’d note that I agreed with your point above that it shouldn’t be about a “definitive” account. My issue what you’ve written, though (and I like your writing and read your blog fairly regularly), is that I don’t see how your perspective is necessarily a response to mine. I mean, your writing on the subject is mostly grounded in your experience, which is decidedly in the dance world. Anyone looking remotely from the outside may not be as interested or care as much about “systems of the body and somatic awareness,” and might be interested in what you’ve written off as the baggage of content. Is that a perspective or a bias? Yeah it is, I guess, but even so I tried to grasp what May was going for and I just couldn’t get to what you’re talking about. If I’m ill-informed and that’s the only reason I didn’t like it, who exactly is the intended audience and in what ways do they need to be informed going in? I read and referenced your context notes (sorry, I couldn’t track down the link to them for the post though, I got them in hard copy) and that did in fact inform my response.

    Anyway, I’m not trying to be a jack-ass–I’m trying to take the art seriously and try to ensure there’s some sort of content to generate a discourse about it. But instead of actually disagreeing with anything I said, you start where pretty much everyone does: that whoever said something you disagree with clearly is just not qualified to offer an opinion or a response (because inherently it must definitive–someone thought something and wrote it down!). I’ve been doing this a while and in my experience, I will never ever ever be qualified to write a negative review of someone.

    Anyway, it doesn’t really bother me too much that you think I’m wrong, I just wish you were more interested in actually saying why, or making it a dialogue instead of just writing me off. I can be convinced I’m wrong, change my mind, and come back to things.

  2. smaxfield says:

    Jeremy, thanks for your response here. Though I was inspired to offer this post in part from reading your review, it was not my intention to write a review of your review. It was instead my intention to write my response GUTTER GATE , in an alternative fashion (yes, based in my experience) to what had already been published.

    I agree that not everyone is necessarily interested in “systems of the body and somatic awareness,” and I think that dance does suffer from some issues of insularity. But, I think that anyone reviewing dance should have at least some interest in and information about such topics. If they don’t, I do believe that, as a dance reviewer, they are ill-informed. (Not “stupid,” not “evil,” simply “ill-informed.”)

    I truly don’t intend this to be mean-spirited, though I was certainly critiquing your review (and another) at the beginning of my post. I actually felt that to more specifically directly comment on your review would have been “meaner” and less productive, than to simply offer my take on the piece as an alternative.

    That said, my use of the word “nonsense,” was perhaps not as thoughtful as was deserved.

    I am actually extremely interested in further dialogue. Thanks very much for reaching out, and I look forward to continuing a conversation.

    One additional note: though I do write Context Notes for some of DTW’s programming, I did not write the notes for the program of this piece.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s