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.