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Miguel Gutierrez, finding a path outside the mainstream

July 12, 2011 | 11:45 am

Miguel New York-born choreographer Miguel Gutierrez spent the early part of his career performing in San Francisco as a member of the Joe Goode Performance Group. Eventually, he returned to the East Coast, convinced his best chance for success existed in New York. “I wanted access to an international audience and New York was the best gateway,” he says.

Now 40, Gutierrez, who lives in Brooklyn, has never regretted his decision. Since 2001, when he started creating his own works with a group of collaborators under the name Miguel Gutierrez and the Powerful People, he has steadily gained recognition both nationally and internationally. Working in New York City, however, has its pros and cons, especially for convention-defying contemporary dance artists, says the choreographer, who will make his Los Angeles debut this weekend at the Alexandria Hotel.

On one hand, New York “has these formalist legacies that I find really interesting,” he says of all the famous modern dance choreographers from Martha Graham onward who made their home in the city. “But those same legacies are what’s burdening New York. You’ve got these false binaries of uptown and downtown dance, mainstream and experimental.”

Gutierrez, for example, often gets labeled as a performance artist because he creates work that explores existential and philosophical ideas through dance, text and song and “this drives me crazy.  I’m like ‘No, I’m a dancer. I get annoyed when my work is relegated to the outside of dance,” he says. “And it’s just this endless problem, not just in New York, but in America in general of being considered fringe. You always have to say my work is ‘downtown’ or ‘experimental.’ You can’t just say it’s dance. It’s so tedious.”

But in the last two years, Gutierrez and other artists have found a guardian angel of sorts in Ben Pryor, a 28-year-old former arts administrator turned impresario who shares Gutierrez’s assessment about the divisions in New York City’s dance culture. Pryor became Gutierrez’s manager in 2009 and that same year, created a festival in the hopes of drawing attention to dance artists he felt were ignored by the mainstream. Called “American Realness,” the now annual event functions as an alternative to APAP, the New York City-based performing arts showcase where presenters each year essentially shop for the artists that they want to book for their venues. “American Realness” proved “to be great for Miguel’s exposure and he wound up getting a lot of gigs in Europe,” says Pryor.

Pryor remains wholeheartedly dedicated to Gutierrez’s career because “he’s pulling from this litany of creative and artistic sources, from traditional modern dance to musical theater. He embraces show and spectacle but maintains this self-referential quality and awareness of it,” he says. “It’s this melding of artistic practices that I find really interesting.”

To read more about Miguel Gutierrez, click here.

-- Susan Josephs

Photo: Miguel Gutierrez in performance. Credit: Ian W. Douglas

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