The choreographer Miguel Gutierrez presents the New York premiere of “I as another,” a duet with Laila Franklin, at Baryshnikov Arts Center.
At the end of Miguel Gutierrez’s “I as another,” there is a familiar idea in the air: Just as no two people are alike, no people are truly knowable. In this New York premiere, a duet with Laila Franklin, that notion is illustrated more through words than action. It opens with a voice-over as Gutierrez asks: “Did you expect something different?”
Franklin: “Did you want it to change?
Gutierrez: “How could you not?”
Eventually, a powerful drumroll leads into Stevie Nicks’s “Sable on Blonde.”
Where are we? It could be a dance floor in outer space. Performed at Baryshnikov Arts Center, “I as another” is Gutierrez’s second dance (of three) being presented this spring in New York City. Last month came “Cela Nous Concerne Tous” (“This Concerns All of Us”), an increasingly raucous work performed by Ballet de Lorraine that reimagined a riot. The third, “Variations on Themes From Lost and Found: Scenes From a Life and Other Works by John Bernd,” a 2016 collaboration with the choreographer Ishmael Houston-Jones, arrives at Danspace Project on May 25.
With his new duet Gutierrez offers something more scaled down and intimate — and perhaps because he is in it, with more bite. But it is often too wide-eyed. (And, as in “Cela Nous Concerne,” there is more pink light and fog, which feels less like a signature look than a too-obvious echo.) In “I as another,” Gutierrez is responsible for the sound design, text and costumes, along with the choreography; he wears a purple top and shorts alongside Franklin in bright green. As bodies and people go, they are clearly different — Gutierrez is a dance elder in this scenario, while Franklin represents the new generation.
He takes inspiration from the writings of the Martinique philosopher Édouard Glissant and his ideas around opacity — that the oppressed have a right to be unknowable. In “I as another,” the dancers sidestep revealing who they really are or might be. In any case, they seem sad.
There is music by Willie Colón (“Gitana”); briefly, Gloria Estefan and Miami Sound Machine (“Words Get in the Way,” which, in this word-heavy experience, is something of a joke); and, of course, Nicks. It’s fitting that her song kicks off with the lyric “Learn to be a stranger.” One point “I as another” seems to be making is that we are all strangers — perhaps even to ourselves. To “Sable on Blonde,” the dancers perform a repeated pattern: gliding side to side, diving forward and pivoting to a knee-raised balance — separate but in unison, strangers on a stage.
Sometimes the dancers’ presence is grounded, but in other moments they seem to be floating onstage, dangling like their continual questions. Their environment is particular: The lighting, by Carolina Ortiz Herrera, renders the setting — it may be the future — dystopian, hazy, purposely impenetrable. Behind them is a large structure with squares of lights, much like a Lite-Brite toy, filling a large portion of the back of the stage.
Sometimes the darkness obscures their bodies into grainy silhouettes as they pace the stage in curves and straight lines. They relive memories of their pasts or explore the stage: Gutierrez roams along while opening and closing an arm like a silky ribbon while Franklin, on the floor, rolls backward into a shoulder stand before whipping her legs around sideways.
They have a sweet, rollicking chemistry even as the repetitive back-and-forth of their questions — where did you come from? where are you now? where will you go? — becomes tiring. It’s a rhythm, though, that sets the tone for how they end up: triggered and tense. Toward the end, their hand and arm gestures take a brittle turn into fists and sharp elbows; their walks become jerky, slipping from one direction to the next. Eventually they slow down and meet in the middle of the stage, and a final extended voice-over — with some of Gutierrez’s best writing — takes over, repeating questions from the start and adding many more.
Gutierrez says, “I think I’ve learned how to perform honesty.” Franklin replies: “I think I’ve also learned how to perform honesty. I think I can learn how to” — and both of their voices complete the sentence — “pretend to be truthful.”
Can you assume anything about anybody? To that, “I as another” delivers a resounding no, especially with the concluding text of one-liners, beginning with the words “you seem” — as in, “You seem like you understand the way things are” or “You seem more curious than me.”
The statements grow sharper, darker, more funny: “You seem like someone who if you had to, you’d kill” and “You seem like you’re OK with fraud.”
Instead of voice-over, the two speak from stage in the work’s final moments, wondering again where they are. But by the end we know something about who they are, however opaque: two people, profoundly different and questioning not just each other but the state of the world.
Through Sunday at Baryshnikov Arts Center; bacnyc.org