Whether it’s leaving the stage mid-dance to climb over audience members, or performing within the confines of a small gallery space, dancer Laura Gutierrez challenges the notion of where art can take place. So it makes sense her piece for CounterCurrent18, an annual festival of radical performance and installation art staged in non-traditional venues across Houston, will take place in the maze of aisles of the Fiesta on San Jacinto.
“I grew up going to Fiesta with my mom,” says Gutierrez, who was raised in a predominately white subdivision in Northwest Houston. “I saw brands my cousins in Laredo would talk about, the sweetbread sold in the bakery, things like that.” Gutierrez recalls feeling not Mexican enough for Mexicans, yet not white enough for Anglos. “I’ve always struggled with identity,” says Gutierrez, whose father is Mexican, and mother Mexican-American. “With this piece, I get to try to understand a little more about my roots.”
Titled “Center Aisle Blues,” Gutierrez’s dance is one of several CounterCurrent works that deal with race, migration and genealogy. “We never set out with a theme for the festival,” says Karen Farber, director of the festival-producing Cynthia Woods Mitchell Center for the Arts, “but one inevitably emerges, and this year’s festival is more relevant than we could have imagined.”
Gutierrez often dances solo, without props or elaborate costumes, and her confidence is palpable. In a 2013 performance Joan Jonas' "Mirror Check" at the CAMH, Gutierrez slowly and silently examined her naked body with a round, handheld mirror for several minutes. “It was a very freeing experience,” says Gutierrez, who admits she has yet to tell her parents about the performance. “Seeing my body in a different way, and having people watch me go through that experience, it was very empowering for me as a young woman. I’d love to revisit it.”
Gutierrez moved back to Houston from New York seven years ago, and now divides her time between performing her own work, touring with choreographer Jonah Boaker, and teaching at her alma mater, HSPVA. “I don’t want to do a dance just to ‘do a dance’ and twirl around onstage,” she says. “It’s definitely a time to think about what we are trying to say and how we can make work that matters, or just keeps the discussion going.” CounterCurrent18, April 10 - 15, countercurrentfestival.org