IMPRESSIONS: TERE O’CONNOR DANCE – WROUGHT IRON FOG
Dance Theater Workshop on November 12th, 2009
Music James Baker (text excerpted from the poetic novel How It Is by Samuel Beckett)
Set Design Walter Dundervill and Tere O’Connor
Performerss Hilary Clark, Daniel Clifton, Erin Gerken, Heather Olson, and Matthew Rogers
Gillian Vinton studied dance at Sarah Lawrence College. Upon graduation in 2006 she has served as dancer, choreographer, administrator, and consultant for modern dance companies in New York City. Currently she works a 9-5 at the Freelancers Union and is the General Manager for Cherylyn Lavagnino Dance. She performs with Jesse Phillips-Fein and choreographs for her own new company, Umwelt Dance Theater.
Writing about Tere O’Connor’s choreography makes me want to use words that aren’t usually positively associated in dance criticism: words like disjointed, counterintuitive, and above all, weird. Part of his skill as a post-modern choreographer is to take these apparent negatives and make them essential to the enjoyment of his work. A core requirement for any self-respecting lover of post-modern dance should be an appreciation of the weird, and it’s no doubt that O’Connor’s work is some of the weirdest out there. A recent NY Times article titled “How Nonsense Sharpens the Intellect” raised the hypothesis that experiences that violate our sense of logic (in the case of O’Connor’s newest work Wrought Iron Fog, dancers moving without clear motive from a series of desperate, scrambling dives to a classroom style unison quintet) cause us to seek and create patterns in other areas of our life. Literally, experiencing weirdness makes us sharper.
Logically then, leaving Dance Theater Workshop last Thursday night I should have been at my most lucid. I have to admit that this was disappointingly not the case. O’Connor’s previous works have all been refreshingly disjointed, counterintuitive, and weird in the way that I enjoy, but in Wrought Iron Fog I missed the episodes of extreme theatricality contrasted with the “pure movement” dance breaks of Baby and Rammed Earth.
Yes, Wrought Iron Fog had the ubiquitous prissy walks, the leggy, angular movement phrases, and the deadpan stares, but the whole work felt unnecessarily safe. It didn’t help that the costumes by Jennifer Goggans and Erin Gerken looked like a typical “modern dance costume” modified from garments at Forever 21, and the lovely but seemingly unnecessary set of a vertical string forest by O’Connor and Walter Dundervill didn’t draw any sparks either.
O’Connor created the weirdest and best moments in Wrought Iron Fog for his two male dancers, Daniel Clifton and Matthew Rogers. Their duet in the middle of the piece was the first time any of the dancers, in this case Rodgers, let it fly (at times with literal flapping motions) as Clifton looked on while patting and petting himself. Another satisfying section was Rodger’s superb solo, where he paired still, effortful moments with unexpectedly virtuosic balances. In these two sections and in a few others -like when the dancers turned into beasts gently head butting each other, or Erin Gerken and Heather Olson fought gently and incoherently- it all seemed to fit (or rather, it didn’t, but that’s what made it so good). But in other moments it was too classical and pretty as with an opening that recalled every modern dance seen on the showcase circuit since 1995 and some impressive but stale lift duets.
This wasn’t Tere O’Connor’s best work, but for all that he is still deservedly a part of the post-modern dance royalty. He’s still a master at pushing against the expected, and he brings his audience along with him for the weird, counterintuitive, and disjointed ride.