ADF: Tere O’Connor, part 2


The dances are studded with moments that seem like drawings on the stage. This one from poem, July 15, 2014, Reynolds Theater. Photo: Grant Halverson, ©ADF.

The dances are studded with moments that seem like drawings on the stage. This is one from poem, July 15, 2014, Reynolds Theater. Photo: Grant Halverson, ©ADF.


Tere O’Connor Dance presented two more works in its American Dance Festival series on the 15th in Reynolds Theater, and another on the 16th. Secret Mary (2012) and poem (2012) are, the word is, “interconnected” with Sister, which was danced Sunday in the Ark. The final dance BLEED is meant to be the culmination of a two-year-long project during which O’Connor made the first three with different casts and different “source material.” The ADF presentation of all four dances is the first time they’ve all been performed together, in sequence. BLEED is its own dance, but having seen the other three, it does look like Connor put the earlier ones in the blender and hit chop before pouring all eleven dancers onto the stage. You could see whole chunks of previous dances adrift in the movement soup. Possibly this takes the idea of re-mix a little further than is useful.

I was quite taken with Sister, but maybe it requires the humidity and closeness of a space like the Ark to juice up this work for me. In Reynolds, up on the stage in a cool room, the dances seemed less like important communications from the nonverbal world than clever mind games set on bodies. The distinctive combination of different movement types with piquant gestures of O’Connor’s devising began to feel more contrived than inventive. Neither Secret Mary, for four dancers, nor poem, for five dancers, has anything in the way of emotional force, narrative arc or dramatic tension; both do mimic life in its erratic swing between exhilaration and boredom, with long marches and languid pauses along the way. Sadly, all of O’Connor’s sparkling variations in movement, dancers, lighting and sound could not counteract the deadening effect of his long pauses. Another problem was that each dance included a dancer with noticeably more refined technique than the others, which skewed the design because the eye wanted to linger on that one. An even bigger problem was that the two dances, performed without intermission–the two casts cross leaving and arriving–were too much alike, as well as being too much the same throughout. One felt that both could have been stopped at any number of places, without detrimental effect. Judging from the number of people shifting and surreptitiously checking watches, I was not alone in this thought.

This instant from BLEED shows O'Connor's skillful use of gesture big and small. Silas Riener front right. Photo: Grant Halverson, ©ADF.

This instant from BLEED shows O’Connor’s skillful use of gesture big and small. Silas Riener front right. Reynolds Theater, July 16, 2014.  Photo: Grant Halverson, ©ADF.


It’s possible that the fractured, elastic, circular way that we experience time, and therefore each other, is O’Connor’s real subject. You can just just glimpse the idea beyond the nearly opaque screen of smart dance references. That idea seemed to drive BLEED, which has a clearer structure (and being one dance, doesn’t go on at such tiresome length), and with eleven dancers, much more possibility of meaningful variation. It also makes more of the big rhythm of repetitions, especially of a ritual element involving circling and stamping (that, rather delightfully, seemed to refer to “dance to the death” of The Rite of Spring). The larger cast made the discrepancies among the dancers’ skills less noticeable–and there were some lovely duets for the two powerful men, Silas Riener and Ryan Kelly. And, as the photographs show, there were striking moments throughout, as well as bursts of wonderful kineticism and real dancing among the pauses.

Tere O’Connor will discuss his work tonight, July 17, at 8 pm in the Ark. Free.

Tere O’Connor Dance in an arresting moment near the end, but not the end, of BLEED. Photo: ©Ian Douglas.

Tere O’Connor Dance in an arresting moment near the end, but not yet the end, of BLEED.          Photo: ©Ian Douglas.


ADF: Tere O’Connor Dance, part 1

From Sister. Tere O'Connor Dance in the venerable Ark on Duke's East Campus, July 13, 2014. Photo: Grant Halverson, ©ADF.

From Sister. Tere O’Connor Dance’s Cynthia Oliver and David Thomson in the venerable Ark on Duke’s East Campus, July 13, 2014. Photo: Grant Halverson, ©ADF.


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.

ADF: Double-Down Day at the Festival

Each year towards the end of the summer performance season of the American Dance Festival, some of the teaching faculty at the ADF School present a concert of their own works. Some of them dance; others set the works on students, thus giving them important pre-professional training in making a dance and getting it onto the stage, pdq. These faculty dances are generally short, since many must be packed into the program. And unless the teacher/choreographer has already been working on an idea, they tend not to be too evolved or complex, but instead have a refreshing immediacy. The final act of the show is always a clever dance skit produced by the ADF tech staff, in which particularly memorable images and sequences from the season’s performances are sent up, always with panache and  hilarious results.

This year, the Faculty Concert is appearing in rotating rep, as it were, with the first event in Tere O’Connor’s week-long residency. The 2 pm shows have taken place, but you still have the choice of 8 pm shows: Faculty in Reynolds Theater, or Tere O’Connor Dance performing for free in The Ark on Duke’s East Campus. See the full Tere O’Connor Dance schedule here. Both shows are general admission.

The 2 pm Faculty Concert opened with a joyous, high-energy dance by the wonderful drummer and choreographer Sherone Price (ADF faculty since 1995),working from a traditional mask dance from Guinea. With drummers on stage, four young men and four young women leapt and stomped gleefully through the elegantly modernized ritual steps. One of the men–the one with the long braids–has that special talent which can make the West African-style arm movements so powerful: he doesn’t simply move his arms and hands through a nothingness of air–he divides the air and presses it back, so that we are aware of its density and resistance.

There follows a remarkable “Metamorphosis” by Jessica Harris, and danced by her and Austin Selden. Both have the Shen Wei company in their pedigrees, so the movement was deliciously eel-like. A work by long-time ADF teacher Rodger Belman follows, intriguing with the musician also dancing, and playing the keyboard with his elbows. A very pretty work by Gerri Houlihan follows intermission, then a strangely-unsatisfactory duet by Robbie Cook and Rosalynde Le Blanc-Loo. Some interesting movement, and of course Le Blanc-Loo has a huge stage presence, but it just didn’t come alive. Mark Haim and Jesse Zaritt offer up a funny duet, smarter in actuality than it would sound in description, then T. Lang closes the faculty portion with a large group dance with some sharply inventive sequences. Last but hardly least, ladies and gentlemen, “Ducks and Cover,” by the 2014 ADF Production Crew. If you have seen even one other dance this season, you will laugh. If you’ve seen a lot, you’ll laugh a lot. And if you saw 13 Love Songs: Dot Dot Dot, you will laugh your ass off.

Tere O’Connor report tomorrow.

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