IMPRESSIONS: Beth Gill’s "Brand New Sidewalk" at Abrons Arts Center
September 29, 2017
Choreography: Beth Gill
Lighting and Scenery: Thomas Dunn
Music: Jon Moniaci / Costumes: Baille Younkman
Performers: Kevin Boateng, Maggie Cloud, Joyce Edwards, and Danielle Goldman
A body can act as a stage where emotions, sometimes involuntarily, dance across it. Shoulders slump — sadness. Shoulders rise — skepticism. Shoulders down, out, and proud — satisfaction. Yet, when removed from context, gestures that once conveyed everything become inscrutable, enigmatic.
In Brand New Sidewalk, which received its New York premiere at Abrons Arts Center, Beth Gill turns the points and lines of the body into a blank canvas. She layers color, shape, and light on top of one another to create a series of abstract postures that unfold like an art exhibition.
In the first of three sections, Danielle Goldman tugs off clothes — a turquoise sweatsuit, a red sweater — and then wraps them around and stretches them across her body. Lined up, the colorful swatches appear as thick, painterly stripes, a little like a Rothko. During the second and best movement, white-clad Kevin Boateng and Joyce Edwards stand with their feet apart, toes pointing forward. Against a teal cyclorama, they arrange their arms in high Vs and low Os. Lastly, Maggie Cloud shuffles through sepulchral lighting as gauzy sheaves wrapped around her body unwind and drift in her wake.
Throughout the triptych, the quartet assumes postures of resignation. They hunch, they crouch, and they crumple to the floor. Often, they direct their gazes down save when they look into the audience, their expressions impassive. Horns wail over electronic whirs and rattles in Jon Moniaci’s score, casting a plaintive gravitas over the bowing spines. The mood is melancholic, but not grim.
Brand New Sidewalk strolls rather than dashes, each action deliberate in intention and execution. Much of the choreography revolves around gestures, gentle swings of the arms and tapping fists, spokes emanating from still centers. These extensions feel communicative, as if they’re warning us about the dangers of alienation.
While all perform with exquisite precision, Boateng and Edwards deserve laurels for their simultaneous realization. Often, they cannot see each other, yet they move together, twinned in action but wholly unique in attitude. Edwards stands with regality while Boateng projects ease of self, of spirit.
It’s hard to say how Gill meant for the title to be perceived in reference to these sparse, arresting phrases. Yet, when Cloud is prone, her still body among the sheets of tulle suggests the milky film of a streetlight and the strange shadows that lurk in it. As Boateng and Edwards stride in a circle, they seem like they’re participating in the busy, accidental choreography of pedestrians.
Mostly though, the severe beauty of Brand New Sidewalk feels like a visual hymn: ritualistic, reverent, full of mystery and promise.