The Walker Art Center alerts attendees that Miguel Gutierrez's This Bridge Called My Ass contains nudity and sexual, "playfully erotic," content. The nudity is a simple fact, but the delight and fascination of the performance is that whatever your definition of "erotic" might be, Gutierrez complicates it.
In the shenanigans (for lack of a better word) that constitute the bulk of this 90-minute Walker commission, six performers (Alvaro Gonzalez, John Gutierrez, Xandra Ibarra, nibia pastrana santiago, Evelyn Sanchez Narvaez, and Miguel Gutierrez) move about the McGuire Theater stage as audience members sit on chairs immediately surrounding the action. Colored light bars mounted overhead, under seats, and on the walls are part of a lighting design (by Tuçe Yasak) that ranges from total darkness to full lights-up as the performers cavort and contort.
Playful, erotic, action, cavort, contort...what? Exactly. For much of its 90-minute running time, This Bridge is a kaleidoscope of activity that has the artists moving singly, doubly, triply, and so on in configurations that ultimately include a six-person pile-up. They begin the show wearing brightly-hued garments that generally fall into the mesh family, but soon all clothes are shed and they pick through the available textiles with a sort of curiosity.
Is this blanket something one could wrap oneself with? Maybe, for a few minutes, but first suspend it from the hanging grid, using one or more of the show's ubiquitous utility clips. (Just about everything that can get clipped, gets clipped...and yes, that means everything.) This electric fan? For sitting on, for now. This stool? For mounting, riding, shoving, or rubbing. This cord? For wrapping, or riding. By the end of This Bridge, you'll never look at a power strip the same way again.
The emotional tone of all this activity, with laptop computers pulled into the fray to control music playlists that blast from overhead as well as from Bluetooth speakers that really get their warranties put to the test, is a sort of anguished fun. Imagine that moment in really good sex where just about any kind of position or prop seems like it might be a good idea, and you're basically there...but without the activities leading up to that point, and also without the sex.
What does it all mean? Well, the show is part of the Walker's Out There series, so don't expect any pat answers. For context, though, note that all of the artists are Latinx, much of the music is Latin American, and the show — after a deafening klaxon signals an end to the extended opening interlude — culminates in an "absurdist telenovela." In that section the performers act along to dialogue that suggests an indecipherable but extraordinarily juicy plot full of lust, betrayal, and murder. For the concluding vignette, the utility clips return in, suffice it to say, unexpected form.
"The title," explains a program note, "is a play on This Bridge Called My Back (ed. Cherrie Morága and Gloria Anzaldua), a seminal 1981 anthology of Third Wave feminist essays that explores identity and critiques white feminism."
What you take away from This Bridge Called My Ass very much depends on what you bring to it: the show scrambles ideas around performance and narrative, in an intimate context. The performers' vigorous, sometimes even pained, exertions might evoke identity work. When these artists bring their bodies and beings to the stage, whether in New York (where a recent run earned rave reviews) or in Minneapolis, what kind of work gets done, and by whom, to build bridges?
When you cross This Bridge Called My Ass, you entirely give yourself over to a gifted ensemble for a carefully-honed performance that has them throwing themselves — and pulling you — into a world of silly-serious sensual chaos with what seems to be utter abandon. That abandon only goes so far, though, and the world beyond its limits is ultimately what this happily haunting show is about.
This Bridge Called My Ass
Walker Art Center
8 p.m. Friday and Saturday