Miguel Gutierrez’s first New York City premiere in four years takes its title from Cherrie Moraga and Gloria Anzaldua’s seminal 1981 text, This Bridge Called My Back, which explored identity and experience from the perspective of women of color, canonizing the now-commonplace concept of “intersectional feminism.” This Bridge, with its critiques of white feminism’s denial of difference and “colorblindness,” and its foregrounding of complex, hybrid identities can be seen as a precursor to our current political moment, which is exactly what the editors hoped for the book: “With the completion of this anthology, a hundred other books and projects are waiting to be developed… It is a catalyst not a definitive statement on “Third World Feminism in the U.S.”
With This Bridge Called My Ass, choreographer Miguel Gutierrez hopes to builds upon and continue this third-wave feminist project with the addition of his own subjectivities: “I am interested in how abstraction and content are set in opposition to each other in U.S. dance, and how my identity as a queer Latino artist working in overwhelmingly white contexts locates me as a bridge between these oppositions. Can a dance performance with an all brown cast re-formulate this binary?”
Where the first Bridge names this in-between space as a site of rage and struggle, Gutierrez’s Bridge calls on it as a site of queer pleasure, desire, madness, bad behavior, joy, and vitality.
Cue: the first act of This Bridge Called My Ass. Six performers in various states of undress commence upon a chaotic stage in an erratic choreography that alternately evokes a tent city, a living-room fort made by children, a boat with masts and sails, a circus. They engage in random acts, sexual and otherwise, with each other and the objects they have available: brightly colored pieces of fabric, step ladders, radios, speakers, extension cords, fans, clamps, laptop. One performer slings some orange fabric over a pipe on the ceiling as another sticks her tongue in a fan and yet another takes her underwear off, hangs it on a nail and then puts it on her head without using her arms; they form orgiastic dyads and triads involving stepladders and speakers that play a soundtrack of familiar Latin-American songs. They are building something, tearing it down and building it back up again. The work is never done and it might not even be work. There is no crescendo or climax in this tableau, just one long desultory thrill. But is it thrilling? The idea of endless queer sex: a utopian vision or an exercise in banality and nihilism? Hmm.
Just when I thought the scene would never end, dramatic narrative came in and saved the day. The second act satirizes the telenovela form, providing some much-needed laughter and oxygen as the six characters transform into soap opera archetypes. In Spanish with English subtitles projected on the wall, they fight and ridicule each other, threaten violence and proclaim love, scream, cry and coo, until again the scene begins to drone into static abstraction. The final scene, involving a dog deity made out of metal clamps, suggests salvation for us all or perhaps its leads us right back to the beginning of an endless search for meaning. It’s hard to say.
Abstraction and content, form and formlessness, politics and nihilism. “Can a dance performance with an all brown cast re-formulate this binary?” Indeed, This Bridge Called My Ass succeeds in creating an elusive, nonbinary dance form. Within its rhythms, however, I found a frustrated exhaustion. Gutierrez might be showing us his refuge, his release from the position of constantly having to explain intersectionality to the white dance world. Rather than be a “damn bridge,” Gutierrez seems to say that though he’s challenged, maybe even crushed by this endless debate, he will not have his ass handed to him. Instead he hands it back to us, as if to say: “You struggle with these questions. I’ll be here in a pink lace bodysuit humping a stepladder.”