A Dance Through Dusty Time: The Choreographic Bite of Beth Gill

Beth Gill watches her dancers rehearse. She gives them notes. This isn’t out of the ordinary for a choreographer, but there are notes and then there are notes. Gill’s are both expansive and exacting as they help build her vision of a dance with steely precision. She draws on sensation and rhythm; through the placement and poetry of motion, a living dreamscape emerges. A simple change of perspective can shift the idea of time. It’s spooky. Jennifer Lafferty, who has danced with Gill since 2011, said, “We used to call it, like, ‘magic trick.’”

Gill, an award-winning choreographer who found acclaim shortly after graduating from New York University, is truly something of a movement magician. After watching a rehearsal of a section of “Nail Biter,” which has its New York City premiere on Friday at NYU Skirball, Gill, 43, had thoughts for Lafferty and Jordan Demetrius Lloyd. The dancers perform a duet, though an unconventional one: Each has individual power yet exists as a separate entity.

“Maybe it’s a way that you’re thinking about yourself in space,” Gill said, opening her arms wide. “When I like this duet, it’s because I feel like both of you are holding an idea that this space is your space. I want each of you to have a kind of assertiveness that isn’t about aggression. It’s about your purpose.”

Lafferty loves how specific Gill is as a choreographer. “It gives me something to work toward,” she said. “I can find freedom within that. There’s still so much space to work in, even within the specificity of those perimeters.”

Marilyn Maywald Yahel, one of the five exceptional dancers in “Nail Biter.”Credit…Vincent Tullo for The New York Times

“Otherwise,” she added, “What are we doing? Why are we dancing?”

For a sequence in which Lafferty curls around the stage in a circle, her feet gliding through a pattern of step-together-step while wearing high-heeled white boots — her goal, she said, is to be like Chloë Sevigny, radiating a kind of bad-girl cool. Gill, carefully observing, said that the hop needed to emphasize the up accent. This tied in with her description of, as she put it, “kicking up the dust of the space up into you.”

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