On Saturday night, I found myself in an empty lot in Greenpoint, Brooklyn—empty except for 15-or-so fellow audience members and the strange, poetic urban ritual we were watching. Making her way across the weed-strewn, asphalt desert—very, very slowly—was choreographer and performer Jill Sigman. In one arm, she clutched plastic bags filled with soil; with the other hand, she balanced a fluorescent lantern, wrapped in chicken wire and strapped to a wooden rod, on her shoulder. Her steady, glacial pilgrimage took her along a triangular path, with one of three musicians (Miguel Frasconi, Austin Vaughn, and Cristian Amigo) stationed at each corner. Their tranquil soundscape was expansive enough to summon curious neighbors out of their apartments and onto the balconies of the sleek new building across the street.
The performance, TILL, was part of Sigman’s residency at Arts@Renaissance, an arts space that was once a wing of the Greenpoint Hospital and, after that, a men’s homeless shelter. The focal point of the residency (where TILL began, before Sigman led us outdoors into the cool night) is Hut #7, the seventh in a series of huts that the choreographer has built out of found and repurposed materials. Sigman has long been interested in sustainability (in her 2009 work, Our Lady of Detritus, she transformed herself into a patron saint of trash), and Hut #7 continues that investigation. Its walls and roof, its hanging ornaments and the alter-like arrangements at its entryway, are all made—with delightful attention to detail—out of garbage collected from the surrounding neighborhood. “First you build the hut. Then you till the space around it,” Sigman wrote in the program notes (where she also informed us that 40 percent of New York City’s waste is processed in Williamsburg-Greenpoint). TILL revealed a ceremonial care and commitment to this place, with its complex history, where she’s been working for over a month.
Perhaps more than any choreographer whose work I’ve seen, Sigman bridges the gap between the often rarified art world and the grittier “real world” in ways that are eye-opening and informative but not pedantic. Next week, June 25–July 1, she’ll lead a workshop examining that art world/real world threshold—and the thresholds between creative disciplines—for emerging artists “whose work explores boundaries” (according to the workshop description). The daily schedule at “The Hut Institute” includes morning movement and afternoon classes with sound artists, visual artists, community organizers, and activists, as well as time to work on individual projects. It sounds fascinating, especially for anyone curious about how dance-making and community-building can inform each other. Learn more and sign up here. —Siobhan Burke