Beth Gill talks about her latest premiere, New Work for the Desert

Beth Gill heats up New York Live Arts with her latest dance, New Work for the Desert

Beth Gill presents New Work for the Desert at New York Live Arts

Beth Gill presents New Work for the Desert at New York Live Arts Photograph: MANCC photo by Chris Cameron

In New Work for the Desert, which runs at New York Live Arts Mar 19–22, choreographer Beth Gill draws inspiration from Trisha Brown's Newark (Niweweorce)—a seminal work of Brown's valiant series—in what is her most personal work to date.

At the start of Beth Gill’s New Work for the Desert, Jennifer Lafferty—as delicate as a feather, yet firmly grounded—crosses the stage slowly with her arms held low behind her back like hidden wings. (Among her many gifts, Gill has a way with revealing the ravishing side of barren.) In Desert, her latest premiere and most personal work to date, she draws on Trisha Brown’s 1987 work Newark (Niweweorce) and the austere beauty of the Southwest to show how, within a dense landscape, expression seeps through form. Think of it as climate change—for the theater.

How did you cast New Work for the Desert?

I cast it very intuitively. I had a picture in my mind, and I reached out to all of the dancers, and they said yes.

In the piece, certain dancers mirror or perform with each other. Did you have the dancer pairings figured out beforehand?
No. That’s what is sort of mysterious to me. I barely had a concept in place. Actually, that’s not completely true. I knew that I wanted to deal with some sources of inspiration for myself, and I knew that meant dealing with Trisha and her work in some way. So I felt that it was very important to choose a cast that would be as disabled in dealing with that material as I might be, so that nobody had access to that information, and I wanted each of them to have a clear connection to me, for some reason. There were various interpretations of that. Marilyn [Maywald] and Jennifer have worked with me on a number of projects. Stuart [Singer] and I performed together and really got to know each other in Gwen Welliver’s work and formed some really important bonds. Kayvon [Pourazar], also, had worked with me previously; and Heather [Lang] and I went to school together and have maintained this really important connection. I felt that as a strategy there was something important about us coming together, and our common bond was me and then tackling these larger unknown domains that I was setting up for us.

You mention Newark in the press release.

That’s great!
Okay. [Laughs]

I was surprised only because you had some trepidation about talking about that dance as an inspiration.
It has been really difficult for me actually. I find myself going back and forth, but some of that fear and anxiety is part of the reason why I’ve taken a stance of being as transparent as possible. I feel intuitively there is something so basic about working in a state of inspiration. That practice shouldn’t have to be so intensely closeted, and it felt like I should really honor it. The anxieties about that have really changed over the course of the process, because when I look at what I’ve made, it is much more multifaceted than that one initial concept line, which was essentially to move toward my interest in that work in particular, but her work in general. To give myself permission to work inside of it. I think I’ve really moved through that in a lot of ways, but it still feels important to me to acknowledge it.

Is it that you’re facing it head-on in this way that gives you something back?
I think so. At the beginning of this project, I realized that I had been writing mainly about Trisha’s work and about James Turrell’s work. I went back and looked at notebooks from when I began Electric Midwife and realized that I was literally writing the same things. I had a strange reaction to that. There was something kind of beautiful about the way that those interests and ideas were somehow still very untouched, but then I also felt that that was strange—that there was something kind of stuck there. I wanted to move past it a little bit. I felt like the best way to do that was to just move right into it.

You were inspired by the memory of watching Newark. How closely did you study it?

I watched it, definitely, at the library. And I went to see it at BAM multiple nights. I have studied what is left in my mind. Does that make sense?

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