Beth Gill: Dancing in Light


JOHN SEVEN North Adams Transcript

NORTH ADAMS -- Bessie Award-winning choreographer Bess Gill is bringing six dancers for a residency in Mass MoCA that promises to create, as she puts it, "a space in which light is alive."

Her new work-in-progress will be performed at Mass MoCA on Saturday, Jan. 18, at 8 p.m.

Gill’s new piece has been developed through several residencies, and the focus of the Mass MoCA visit will be a crucial one for the show, the production elements and visual design. Gill will work with light ing designer Thomas Dunn to set up a theater experience of saturated color that stands in direct contrast to the presentation of her previous work, "Electric Midwife."

"With ‘Electric Midwife’, I instinctively knew that the optical experience of just those six bodies in the space was going to be pretty busy," Gill said, "so I felt like the design around it needed to be pretty stark and somewhat naturalistic, which might be a weird word to use in the theater, but it was essentially the space itself."

Gill did some minimal design work, like adding a radiator for some symmetry in the space, but really very little. The set design of "New Work For The Desert" is inspired by a two-month residency in Tempe, Ariz., that impacted her, especially in her perception of color and the transitions from the tan and brown of the desert land to the overpowering sunsets.

"The natural landscape of the Southwest desert had a real impact on me. The choreographic ideas and the movement ideas that I was developing started to become infused with the natural set design that I was inhabiting," said Gill. "And so, I was thinking a lot about how to make a sense of an expansive space, which was in relationship to the tremendous sky that you can access out in the desert. I’ve lived in NYC since 1999, so, for me, that was pretty dramatic."

Gill’s hope was to bring the look of what she had inhabited to the stage through the use of lighting, and compliment that with choreography that used the bodies to align themselves into geometric shapes in an abstract manner.

"I’m finding that some of the movement evokes a new layer this time, one that is strangely dealing with a little bit of narrative almost, or character," she said. "I’ve been using the word ‘impressionistic.’ Some of the movements, the shapes, some of the themes that get attached to some dancers, imply meaning, but it’s really loose. It’s kind of floating around them a little bit. I think the idea with the set design was to create and to access a kind of drama, but to do it in a very ethereal sort of way."

The meanings, Gill said, are not tangible enough for her to speak directly of, and she’s hesitant to even assign meaning before the work is completed for fear of limiting it.

"When you’re making art, you are always imbuing it with all of the multiple intentions that you had," said Gill. "In this case, I’m indulging in, and nourishing, certain ideas or intentions that I may have about each of the dancers and each of the performers, and try to cultivate that, but I really want that to happen in a realm that’s not so legible. So that the experiment is about a kind of implied fullness. And the experience is happening, some sort of exchange is happening between the work and the audience in terms of in ten tional meaning, but that it’s still hazy in a way."

Gill said the individual dancers have brought much to the work, and the experience has pushed her to be both more vocal and more transparent with them.

"Wrapped into that is always a vulnerability about exposing your questions, and your in terests, and your hopes, and your desires to this group of people, and maybe before you understand how to go about it and if it’s really possible," she said. "I feel that’s been pushed on my end, but I think it’s also brought up really interesting practices for all of us as a group relating to performance presence."

It’s led to an embrace of self-image in performance that manifests in this particular production as it has moved along. It has given the dancers the opportunity to be more a part of the conception of the piece, and the ideas behind it, as well as for Gill to grow with her dancers.

"There’s a kind of performing work that has to do with your perception of yourself in that moment, who you think you are, or what the intention is inside of what you are doing," Gill said. "It’s been really interesting for us to see this relationship between how the more information I’m able to give them, it gives them more tools from the inside to push and navigate that line between the legibility. I think it empowers them more as well."

"So much of their experience has to do with entering into someone else’s direction, and how they find individual agency inside of that is tricky. I would say that my work in the past, because of its rigidity and formal, nameless aesthetic, and even beyond that, some of the concepts of ‘Electric Midwife,’ I would say it was hard to access individual agency inside of the work at times. It felt like that wasn’t necessarily part of what was going on, but I’m happy that it’s really become part of the conversation of this piece."


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