Stepping in: Beth Gill’s Pitkin Grove at The Joyce Theater
By PHILO COHEN
The first reflexion I make to myself as I sit down in front of ongoing movements of Beth Gill and dancer Kevin Boateng (which had started prior to guest seating) is the careful choice of materials. Setting a piece of work in the most accurate materials possible is a quality I often struggle finding in my own work. Here, everything immediately strikes me as seeming to be of the most excellent kind it could have been. New objects pave the stage, ones existing beyond human knowledge and expectations. From colors, to textures, to sounds, I am suddenly immersed in the curated space of Pitkin Grove.
The 360° stage allows one’s perception to consider others’. On the other side, I see faces move, glances follow steps I overlooked and vice versa. How to explore? How to explore well?
Squares of fake grass pave the floor. They’re covering diverse shapes of random objects, some hard, some soft, that Gill will unveil after the first quarter of the piece. A man in red as an insect [Kevin Boateng] walks around in slow motion. The sound of loud silence tracks my breaths, in synchronization with the up and down movements of the red man’s arms. Throughout the man’s walk, Gill will remove all patches of grass, resulting in the exit of the man, forced out of his original habitat. A pink creature in the middle of the trash objects [Danielle Goldman] has been breathing since we sat down but was covered by the grass. What do we see? The woman creature guides our eyes through space with organic fluid moves. She plays with materials of all kind, allowing us to discover in depth some unseen details. The constant back and forth between fast pace, blurry flow and detailed curation of objects is exciting. A tall woman [Joyce Edwards] steps on stage from the audience, wearing yellow or gold. The lightness of her steps seem to reverse the law of physics that would make her be denser on the floor. After a series of deeply powerful moves, the woman sits down and watches Gill bring in a fan and a trash bin full of clay in which she dives her entire body after taking off her shirt, facing one half of the audience. Gill then stands in front of a human-size fan with her two arms wide open, now facing my half of the room. She stays up for a while before finding the floor on which she crawls and lets her breathing die throughout the last half of the piece. Last woman walks in in bright silver crinkled dress [Jennifer Lafferty] and she will close the dance with extended movements full of tragic transitions.
Everyday, I am asked to analyze, describe in depth, understand, interpret, react to, make work out of, respond to. I have rarely found myself before a choreography that allows my thoughts to feel and my body to rest awake. I could search for meaning, but I don’t want to. The series of movements in Pitkin Grove carried me in the space after interpretation which I had no idea existed before tonight’s performance. In a time of intense political nightmares, within a society I am ashamed to be part of, and from a world in which our bodies are too often mistreated, Beth Gill and her dancers thrive to create another space. It is a space that does not deny the darkness of our times while using it in order to empower and make stronger the ones who are not outside. A space of rage, of wrestle, of pain, of complexes yet one in which all these human states are brought beyond literal conditions.
As a man staff of the theatre mops the stage in the last quarter of the piece, meticulously browsing the floor but avoiding Gill’s unconscious body and the trail of clay she left behind her, I feel my ears getting softer, and I have to close my eyes. Pitkin Grove allows us to see what we thought we already saw. It is these movements that will come back in batches to inhabit us as translators of time.
The light turns off. I cannot hear anyone breath. Where will she take us next?
The light turns back on after ten seconds — we have been taught to clap when something ends.