Choreographer favors 'the finite over the ambiguous'
Choreographer Tere O’Connor sounded pleased to have his work showcased at the American Dance Festival this week. All four of his interrelated dances are on the festival’s programs schedule and the choreographer has the T-shirts to prove it.
On Sunday, at the 2 p.m. showing of his “Sister,” stacks of the shirts were available for purchase at The Ark on Duke University’s East Campus. The shirts sported an image of O’Connor’s head on the front and, on the back, the schedule of ADF performances by Tere O’Connor Dance.
“We don’t often get to show all the works. It’s really incredible,” O’Connor said in a recent telephone interview.
On Sunday, the choreographer beamed as dancers Cynthia Oliver and David Thomson acknowledged him after they took their bows following their performance of “Sister.” With six fans whirring in the Ark on a sweltering afternoon, the dancers portrayed a close, caring relationship of the sister/brother kind. They often performed the same movements with some variance. In this work, the choreographer has said that he wanted to look at the difference inside sameness. “Sisters are both and same and different,” he said.
In the first dance, “Secret Mary,” he wanted to examine the influences of colleagues and dancers. He started by telling dancers to “do the dance” without telling them anything else. From their 30-minute observation, he and the dancers looked for common sources of meaning. After their input, he choreographed the dance.
For “poem,” he looked back at the first way he made dance with a focus on poetics and formalism; he generated all of the material himself. That bent kept showing up in subsequent work. “My first impulse had some fire in it for me. I wanted to concentrate on that again. It is an affinity for a formalism that attempts to corral emotion into something visible in a theatrical manifestation,” he said.
The last work, “BLEED,” does not use any material from the first three dances but there’s a relationship nonetheless. “It’s coming more from the personalities of the people,” he said. He’s referring to the 11 dancers who perform in the other works. “The way these histories reassert themselves in the new dance [‘BLEED’] is a ghosting, not a visibility. So, they “bleed” there; they are inside of it,” he has said.
O’Connor has been making dances for 30 years and has won many awards including three New York Dance and Performance “Bessie” Awards. Early on, he had definite ideas about the nature of dance. “I decided to really follow my inclinations,” he said.
He sees a kinship between dance and poetry. Both draw from everyday movements and language to create something that resonates with layers of meaning. There’s something more, an essence beyond the words and motions.
“Specificity is something that is a strange guest in dance. If I had something very specific to say, I would stand on the stage and say it,” he said.
“In watching Ballanchine’s ‘Swan Lake,’ I thought, ‘What is all this about swans? There’s so much more interesting going on in the movements,’” he said. “Dance is not best for story. There are no nouns.”
He prefers to go about art and life another way. “I favor the finite over the ambiguous, pragmatism over mystery. It’s a more complex way of looking at the world,” he said.
He also believes in allowing mortality into everyday existence. “Nothing is really going to last,” he said. This practice has a positive side because it encourages people to live in the moment, he added.
And, living in the moment could also be good advice for audiences who come to see his work. “Just look and take it in. Let things enter you,” he said. “Whatever you see … that’s the answer,” he said. Even though his work does not contain stories per se, he’s not against people finding stories in it. “I’m trying to make a work that is porous enough to include your story. I’m not saying ‘I know more than you.’ I’m sending a message: ‘Let’s swim in this together.’”