I had my introduction to the work of choreographer Tere O’Connor Sunday evening in The Ark, that fine old un-airconditoned white clapboard ship of a building on Duke’s East Campus. It’s one of the main studios for the Duke Dance program, and in the summer is used by the American Dance Festival. All wood and light, with large windows running down both long sides, it is an oddly proportioned room and somehow very homey, especially with the box fans stuck in the windows. What with the heat and the fan-wielding crowd, it was probably the perfect venue for O’Connor’s Sister, with its breathtakingly intimate moments between the two dancers.
There was no talking, not on the stage or on the soundtrack. In fact, the dance was so completely non-verbal, so resistant to explanation with words, that I’ve had fun imagining that it was all made and revised and rehearsed in motion language. Jodee Nimerichter has been taking us through a brilliantly crafted season in which we have been coaxed to consider the uses and abuses of language in dance, but I admit to a sigh of relief when I realized that these dancers were going to be eloquent with everything except words. The movement vocabulary, both gesture and motion, has an artful plainness, with much beautiful hand and foot work. Another joy–the dancers looked at each other, long and closely. They were interacting every minute, and touching often. Such a pleasure, in contrast to the many dances in which the moving bodies seem unacquainted.
Here’s a quote from the Tere O’Connor Dance website, emphasis mine:
In his work, O’Connor attempts to bring into evidence aspects of consciousness that are present in the contingencies of dance. The complex coexistence of time passing, metaphor, constant change, tangential thought, and memory play is central to the work and delineates the spectrum of corporeal and structural choices he makes in his work. He is committed to the power of dance as a sub-linguistic area of expression and revels in its ability to braid together the personal and the universal.
Before the dance began, an ADF staffer turned off all the fans, raising quite a murmur of discontent. But it was good for the recorded music mix (eclectic and more about mood than rhythm) and for the added aural textures drifting through the open windows: Cicadas, sirens, trains. The dancers, already dripping, entered on a powerful olfactory wave of sweat and Tiger Balm. Other than the Tiger Balm, the performance felt more like a poetry reading or jazz in a small club, with the hushed, close-packed crowd reveling in the extreme closeness of the dancers. It was special. And, incredibly, it was free.
The performances tonight and tomorrow in Reynolds will naturally feel different. Tonight’s 7 and 9:30 pm shows will include Secret Mary and poem. Tomorrow, a new work, BLEED, made from the memories of the older pieces (?), will be performed at 7 and 9:30. These are not free, but Thursday’s 8 pm discussion with Tere O’Connor will be, and it will be in The Ark.