Context Notes – Beth Gill
The descent beckons
as the ascent beckoned.
Memory is a kind
a sort of renewal
an initiation, since the spaces it opens are new places
inhabited by hordes
of new kinds—
since their movements
are toward new objectives
(even though formerly they were abandoned).
—William Carlos Williams, excerpt from The Desert Music
January 10, 2014 [notebook entry]
Specificity of body shapes, angles. Silence. Jennifer’s arms lifted behind her back like a cactus. Simplicity. Purity. Sculptural. Pictoral. Geometric.
The way Jennifer exists alone (mostly), as does Marilyn–they are a pair in their own isolation. Kayvon and Christiana as duet partners, dancing together but differently than the others (aesthetically even, or energetically), and Stuart and Heather as a single unit, like shadows of each other. The surprise and break of Stuart and Heather’s unison into same-sex duets with Kayvon and Marilyn is so exciting because of the duration of their unison. It is a break that allows us to begin to see them separately, in relief against these new partnerships. The energy shift feels dramatic and ushers in a new and very different kind of relationship, far downstage, both on their knees with their crotches forward. Kayvon’s foot finds Stuart’s rear, while Heather’s neck and chest stretch up and over Marilyn’s doubled-over back. Heather’s neck and the underneath of her jaw. Sensuality. I see animals and sex. An almost slow-motion copulation.
The way everyone is so evocative of landscape, of space and existence and plant and animal without a kind of literalness, but that inside the space there exists a place, and relationships, that are so carefully chosen and thoughtfully mapped out. The build of dynamics and pacing is both restrained and considered. I see Merce Cunningham and Trisha Brown. It makes me think about how our field is needing to remember its history but also embrace its fluid future, a new wave of formal considerations, members of our own generation who are creating things informed by the past but very much on the forefront of our present. I feel that Beth is a choreographer of our time. I can only imagine with her sound and visual design collaborations how effective and quietly profound and stunning this dance can be. [end of entry]
February 3, 2014
For perhaps as long as the desert and art have co-existed, artists and writers have been inspired by its beautiful, spare landscape, its light and color. Gill has discussed at length the experience of working alone within the desert environment for two months, seeing an almost foreign geographic terrain, thinking about its vastness, its emptiness, the way open space framed what she saw and how she saw it, her capacity to see depth, and the experience of seeing that depth collapse into an almost 2D old-time film studio backdrop. Her interest in the visual and psychological ways that we perceive has been a thread throughout her work, as has a starkly imprinted formalism, symmetry, geography of the body and the body in relation to specifically demarcated and designed spaces. When I spoke with Gill, she told me that while she was working in the desert, she was filled with the memory of seeing Trisha Brown’s Newark (Niweweorce). (It is perhaps subconsciously present in Gill’s own title: New Work. Newark.) Gill talked with me about homage, about having an intense love for another artist (in this case Brown, though she also mentioned being inspired by visual artist James Turrell), wanting to immerse herself in the memory and feelings of her experience of that other dance, the expectations of historic reference, her responsibility for changing or transforming that memory. How she loves dance for its durational aspect – the way it can completely erase or alter the experience of time, or its ability to reveal the experience of time passing, reflecting our own human experience of the fleetingness of time, of mortality.
Watching that studio run through back in January, I couldn’t stop thinking about time passing, and lineage. I was seeing moments, refracted, of things that reminded me of other things, of the past. Watching the Cunningham company for the last time at the Park Avenue Armory was in my head while Christiana and Kayvon were performing their duet; the last time I saw the Trisha Brown Dance Company at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, just after it was announced that Brown would no longer choreograph, was there while Stuart and Heather danced in impossibly perfect unison. The past was very alive in the present. I was thinking about the spaces these titans of modernity fill in our history, the incredible impact each has had on our field, but also the voids, the spaces their absences have left. As I watched Gill’s work, it became clear to me that while we have these people (Cunningham, Brown, et al) and each their oeuvre to look back on and to revive, the thing that inevitably must occur is that new choreographers will emerge to fill these empty spaces. We won’t ever have a new Trisha Brown dance. But there is a generation of dancemakers who are making work in the 21st century and using these legacies as inspiration to make compellingly original dances of their own. Pam Tanowitz immediately comes to mind, the way she seems to be in some kind of constant conversation with, and simultaneously in homage to, the Cunningham heritage (not to mention the ballet lineage). And as I watched New Work for the Desert unfold, I realized that what I was seeing was a rich experience that clearly drew on a deep love and appreciation for Brown’s aesthetic, but was pushing beyond the past into strikingly new territory. Perhaps it is a New Work for the Desert. But it is also a new work for the new millennium. A new work for now. A new work for Newark. History and originality as foreground and background, admirably blurred. A new landscape imprinted with the power of a memory. As William Carlos Williams wrote: “…a kind of accomplishment / a sort of renewal / even / an initiation, since the spaces it opens are new places / inhabited by hordes / heretofore unrealized, / of new kinds—…”