A Wandering Eye and a Wondering Mind With Tere O’Connor

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Michael Ingle, Silas Riener, Natalie Green & Oisin Monaghan in poem. Photo by Ian Douglas.

Here is my long overdue post on Tere O’Connor’s most recent show at New York Live Arts. (Please read Nicole’s excellent recent post on procrastination.) On Tuesday, November 27th I watched Secret Mary and poem, two dances explained by the press release as follows: “poem and Secret Mary constitute the first two works of a multi-year, multi-venue project that will collapse three finished dances into a fourth, culminating work in 2013. Each work features a different cast and point of departure. This series amplifies O’Connor’s affinity for developing distinctly unrelated strains of material and placing them into complex relational networks.”

Having seen the performance, I can attest to the accuracy and insight of this description. Together, the two pieces felt like the result of an endless production of material. There was a certain density to the dances, by which I mean that I couldn’t discern a structure or sections, really. The pieces read like a very long list of a wide variety of tasks for the dancers to perform. I didn’t follow them except with my eyes, so even at the theater I was wondering what to say about them. As I try to become a more skillful writer, I wonder how to watch dance in a way that will allow me to write about it articulately and descriptively. How does one prepare one’s mind and eyes for a dance performance? It’s hard for me to know now if I was abnormally distracted or if O’Connor’s pieces tend towards inscrutability; I felt like I couldn’t remember much of what transpired on stage immediately after the performance. I’d better stay tuned for the next installment.

poem felt like a poem somehow. It was beautiful to watch. The dancers (Natalie Green, Michael Ingle, Oisín Monaghan, Heather Olson, and Silas Riener) looked like children during whimsical parts in which they moved freely and expansively. Then technical passages with ballet steps arranged in unconventional ways demonstrated their considerable skill. Other parts featured gestures with intricate port de bras and hand movements performed in unison. My favorite part was the music by James Baker, which oscillated between more ambient sounds and a strong beat for the performers to dance with, giving the piece more energy. Or maybe just giving me more energy.

Mary Read, Ryan Kelly, Devynn Emory, and Tess Dworman in Secret Mary. Photo by Ian Douglas.

Secret Mary bled into poem, which I liked, since I hate intermissions. Why kill the world that was just brought into being? The four dancers of Secret Mary (Tess Dworman, Devynn Emory, Ryan Kelly, and Mary Read) ran back and forth across the huge stage as poem’s dancers gradually replaced them.

Most notable in Secret Mary was the beginning, when the dancers were spread across the stage in stillness while one flung her arms about. The lighting framed the action, going from light to dark in a strobe-like fashion, though more slowly. This dramatic and interesting effect was not repeated, which reflected an overall lack of repetition in the piece, as well as a denial of satisfaction and revelation for the viewer. No clue was given as to any meaning or purpose in the dance, though I don’t know why I sought one in the first place.

This piece was far sparer than poem, in terms of music (there was none!), fewer steps overall, and costumes that looked more like practice clothing. As such, it had more of a workshop feel. The dancers seemed like a group of performers rather than a cast, the stage a space for trying out ideas rather than presentation. I don’t know what those ideas were, I should confess. I feel that there were ideas, but that they were kept under wraps, and the actual steps and their arrangement are difficult to remember.

I do remember this part, at least. Natalie Green, Silas Riener, Michael Ingle, Heather Olson, and Oisín Monaghan. Photo by Ian Douglas.

The most satisfying part for me was actually another denial of knowledge. The stage at NYLA is so vast that it was often difficult to watch two performers at the same time. I wanted to see what they were all doing, and if they were looking at each other when they stood still, as I noticed that there was lots of intra-performance (not a real word?) gazing. The angles of their bodies and the spaces between them kept me guessing. The question is, then, can frustration be enjoyed?

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