There's a lot that's happened between when Beth Gill was first thinking about her latest dance work, "Nail Biter," in late 2019-early 2020 and this week, when it's final form premieres at the Walker Art Center.
For one, there was a global pandemic. For another, the New York City-based choreographer had a child. "From my vantage point, it feels like there's a lot of autobiographical stuff that's seeped into the work," she says.
First presented as a site-specific piece for an arts residency at the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council in the summer of 2022, "Nail Biter" was then re-imagined at Bard College's Fisher Center in April. Gill and her collaborators have since refined and honed the work for its final premiere at the Minneapolis art center.
Tapping into her own life, Gill spoke about how she works in the realm of abstraction grounded in vivid imagery and feeling. The interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Q: When you go about transforming the work for different spaces, do you draw on feedback from outside the project or is it more internal?
A: I think it's a combination. I feel like I have a small handful of really trusted peers and colleagues. Some of them are dancers that have been in previous projects of mine, and then there's a small group of colleagues — as in other choreographers — we just have a history of seeing each other's work and talking to each other. All those conversations have been really important.
But I think the biggest thing for me was the time between the premiere in the spring to actually stop thinking about the piece. And then when I did start to think about the piece again, paying attention to what, internally within myself, was rising to the surface. What were the questions that I still had about the piece, where were the areas that felt not correct, or not nailed. Like I didn't nail it. That obsessive space is what has fueled this last round.
Q: Did the initial hypothesis or goal change?
A: I think that first iteration was a kind of completion and purging of some of the imagery that I had initially in 2019 and 2020. But because of the traumatic world events, my own personal experience over that time period and just the amount of time that had passed, by the time we got to 2022, a lot of the first imagery and ideas didn't feel like the thing anymore.
A clarity about the roles and the fragmented storytelling really came into view in a different way for [the performance at Bard College in New York]. In a lot of ways, this piece feels like one of the more personal statements in a work for me.
Q: How did you land on the title?
A: "Nail Biter" came to me during the pandemic. It held to existential anxiety and the precarity of that time period. There was a lot of change happening in my life at that time. I had just become a new mom and it was unlike anything I've ever experienced. The sense of not understanding what the future was going to look like — I just felt very present.
Also, I've always felt an interest in the genre of horror. The way I use time in my work really is about this building and controlling of tension. And I think that the genre of horror is so much about that as well. It's rooted in sustained tension and precise moments where it releases. There's momentum. "Nail Biter" felt like a little wink toward that.
And this is more anecdotal, and I didn't think of it when I first I landed on the title. But later I remember, as my son was getting older, he started to bite his nails, and he still bites his nails. I remember thinking, that's interesting. He's definitely in this piece, and he's this little nail-biter.
Q: What do you hope audiences would take away from this piece?
A: I'm very interested in creating imagery and experience that lures a viewer into a kind of associative thought space. There's a kind of pleasure for them in not necessarily immediately being able to say what the thing is, but to be provoked into a kind of questioning of what the thing is. So I hope the work does that. I think there's a lot of feeling in this piece and a lot of emotion, and I hope that translates.
When: 8 p.m. Fri. & Sat.
Where: Walker Art Center, 725 Vineland Pl., Mpls.
Tickets: $25-$35, 612-375-7600, walkerart.org