The Setup: On February 14 and 15, the Nicole Longnecker Gallery was home to new dance work by Houston dancer/choreographer Laura Gutierrez. BARE proved to be an appropriate title for the evening, as the conventions of dance were pared down to their most essential. With no music and no traditional facings (the dancers moved through the audience rather than in front of it), Gutierrez attempted to create movement unvarnished and unadorned; the resulting dances, a female quartet, and a duet between Gutierrez and Houston Ballet Principal Connor Walsh, were a fascinating examination of space, intimacy, and the relationship between bodies.
The Execution: BARE's opening quartet saw its dancers file into the gallery in a single line, each step measured and timed to the rhythm of the group. The line kept close to the walls of the gallery, causing the standing audience to shuffled out of the way. The Longnecker Gallery is not a complicated space, but there's enough walls and sharp turns for some interesting nonlinear choreography. Gutierrez's movement is always clean and precise, and alternates between large, sweeping strokes, and smaller, contraction-based impulses.
The quartet congregated in different areas of the gallery, the formation sometimes split across several walls. The dancers seemed to be attuned to each other's movements despite being separated by audience members unsure whether to stand their ground and interact with the performers or scuttle away.
Even more affecting was the duet between Gutierrez and Connor Walsh. It was spellbinding to see such powerful artists moving in tandem, but what was even more electrifying was the way in which Gutierrez deconstructed the assumptions of male-female partnering. For much of the piece, Gutierrez and Walsh mirrored one another with little to no bodily contact. The magic was in the energy projected toward one another, as if their bodies were connected by an invisible limb. When there were lifts, the moment was not labored or predictable, but felt like a natural extension of the dancers' chemistry.
Like the quartet, the duet was danced without music. However, I found both dances to be highly musical, each one possessing the structure and cadences of choreography tightly set to music. The duet in particular moved with an alternating sense of melody and rhythm. The dance was so strong in itself and so set in its own aesthetic world that it was over before I even realized it had been performed in silence.
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Verdict: Dance is in many ways the most visceral art form, but when so much of it constrained by tropes, including the traditional audience-performer relationship, this physical expression often feels rote, stale, even redundant. Without the restrictions of the proscenium, or the expected flourishes of music, the dances were allowed to develop and expand into refreshingly original dance works. Gutierrez did not just choreograph dances in a gallery; she crafted movement out of the specificity of the Longnecker space that was anything but tired.