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Philip Sandstrom


Philip W. Sandstrom interviews Tere O'Connor about his new work “BLEED” that is premiering at BAM Fisher in the Fishman Space

Michael Ingle, Silas Riener in "poem." Photo by Paula Court.

Philip Sandstrom: The press release reveals that "BLEED" collapses three individual dances (“Secret Mary”, “poem”, and “Sisters”) into each other to produce this new evening-length work. Tell me your process; are you taking snippets and re-organizing them into an amalgamated dance?

Tere O' Connor: The process is about a continuation of some of the central areas of my dance making since I was very young. One of those things is placing in close proximity things that are very different from each other and looking at the way the accrual of information in a sequence is specifically arrived at in a dance, which is different from in any other art form. It includes for me the qualitative essence, affect, memory, and misunderstanding. All of that is carried forward into a work to define what's coming in the kind of dearth of de-notated information because I don't really believe there is any readable information in a dance that could be specific to any one person, like a word could; you can't say "cat" in dance because someone else might think you said "hairbrush".

So I try to live inside those poetics and really try to create a value system which says this isn't about the creation of messages, it's about the creation of movement, it's about the falling into the poetics of choreography and really trying to live there. That’s what Bleed is and basically, in any of my works, I might put together a step from ballet and some crazy thing I invented and then something that is a kind of a piece of theater. The three of those things together create a fourth element, which to me is the choreographic idea. It's not about any of the individual things; it's about what they do in sequence.

PS: So, that what's happening in your new work Bleed?

TOC: These three works in a row will be collapsed into a fourth work in much the same way that three individual steps could be or three sections of a dance could be.

PS: What is your methodology of choosing sections from these three works to collapse into the fourth?

TOC: I'm not really choosing any sections; none of the material from any of the works will really be there. It's like what I was saying before, it's more of a qualitative idea, there are blocks of work in there (from the three dances) that will generate my making (of the new fourth dance) but my making will not be a depiction of that experience; it will just be the results of it.

PS: So, for example, you're not taking a 30 second section from Secret Mary and inserting it into the new work. You’re take the impression and idea of Secret Mary and… ? So, these dances are simply an inspiration that leads you to create this fourth dance “Bleed”.

TOC: Not just an inspiration, they exert a kind of pressure on me from recent memory. Much like in a dance, you see something in the beginning that is impressive to you, and then you wait for it to come back, or not, for the rest of the dance. That's really central to me, about the politics, essence and drama of dance, and that's something I'm working with. I feel these loves and things from the other works, they are crying out to me for inclusion but there is a transformation that goes on in that remembering. So, it's not necessarily that I'm repeating the other dances nor do I want to make that statement that things you love come back. It's more about what kind of consciousness is created by allowing these things to swim around in my mind than about how can I show them in a theme and variation kind of relationship.

PS: Do you utilize any of the vocabulary from those three dances in the new dance? Is there a Tere O'Connor vocabulary?

TOC: No…no, no, no, I'm not looking to define a Tere O'Connor style, I'm just in a constant state of moving forward, One of the most important messages inside of dance, for me, is the concept of furtherance. Just moving forward and changeability. That's why I started working with all different people in my work in the last few years. Having a company started to produce a similar product. I've become very interested in the idea of, much like a central metaphor for dance which is time is passing, objects and the creation of finished products, are antithetical to what I'm interested in. So this idea of everything being erased is what I'm looking at, including my style or my craft or the congratulations that I've received. I'm not looking to keep all those in a box.

PS: What about the uniqueness of your dancers? In the past you've had some dancers that you used regularly who often had significant roles. There were moments that you would use them quite effectively, and I always looked forward to seeing them in your work. They have since retired but do you find using your existing group in the same manner; seeking out significant roles for them?

TOC: Well, Heather Olsen is in this dance and she's been working with me for 17 years.

PS: Impressive.

TOC: In general, I work with a revolving cast from a very large group of performers. One of the things that's happening in any choreography is that the author projects a fiction onto the performers as to who they are and how they exert over time who they actually are and there is a braiding of those two ways of seeing that create who they are in the dance.

These people (who work with me) are all amazing dancers, and they are all people that I would like to sit and talk with for four hours. They're great people. And that's a really big part of who is in my work, including whom I work with for the music, the costumes, and just everyone around me. It is an idea of family or people close to each other who agree upon a certain aesthetic. People resonate in and out of certain areas of the work that way. The specific people who are in it are very important.

PS: Now that you're teaching regularly, and you have been for many years, how does that inform your choreography? Has it changed your approach?

TOC: Yeah, I think it has. But I have always taught, even before becoming a professor at the University of Illinois - Champaign-Urbana. I have taught for a long time.

The kinds of questions that I raise for young (dance) makers are difficult, or just complicated. And because I am constantly asking these questions I ask them of myself all the time. I find it very interesting. One of the things about creating in this art form where you're not going to make a lot of money is that you're really free to go down your own road. I have been able to go completely down the road that I chose to go into the poetics of choreography. There doesn’t have to be a product that is Tere O'Connor, because it's an unsalable product anyway and there is no market pressure on it. I'm free to be in this kind of experimental place, not to say I'm an experimental artist, I'm saying I'm experimenting to make the best work I can make.

This reflects on the kind of questions I'm asking, particularly with the MFA students, we get deep into those questions,

PS: Have you used any of your students or ex-students in your work going forward?

Natalie Green, Silas Riener, Michael Ingle,Heather Olson, Oisin Monaghan in "poem." Photo by Paula Court.

TOC: Yes, right now, Tess Dorman is one of the dancers, an ex-undergrad (from Champaign-Urbana) who was a student when I first started teaching there. She's also a very interesting choreographer who's due to show a work at NYLA (New York Live Arts). Also, Cynthia Oliver, my colleague (at Champaign-Urbana) is dancing in this piece.

There are 11 people in the work; they are the three different casts from these pieces so there are five people from poem, four people from Secret Mary, and two people from “ Sister”

PS: But “Bleed” is still one monolithic dance?

TOC: Yes, but the other three pieces are not being performed. I've written artist notes for the program just in case people are expecting sections from the other three works.

PS: The dancers in this new work Bleed are drawn from New York and also from the University of Illinois, is there anyone in the cast who has never before danced for Tere O'Connor? If so, what's your process of finding new dancers?

TOC: There are new people who have never danced for me before starting with Secret Mary; none of those people had ever worked with me before. But I've worked with them in mentorship situations. Two people are new in poem, Natalie and Silas; and David and Cynthia are new is Sister. So there are new people; one of the things I'm committed to doing now is always having some new people to destabilize the development of a style.

PS: Let's end with your collaborators; what's your process?

TOC: I'm working with lighting designer Michael O'Connor, whom I've worked with for years. Composer James Baker has made the music for almost all of my work. Walter Dundervill is designing the costumes. There is no set but we’re using the lighting to accent the architecture of the space. We're working 3/4 round. In this dance I refer both to the artifice of the proscenium and create liquid spaces where we take rectilinear out of the equation by making use of curves.


Tere O’Connor Dance
Choreography by Tere O’Connor
Lighting design by Michael O’Connor
Costume design by Walter Dundervill
Composer James Baker
Danced by Tess Dworman, Devynn Emory, Natalie Green, Ryan Kelly, Michael Ingle, Oisín Monaghan, Cynthia Oliver, Heather Olson, Mary Read, Silas Riener, and David Thomson
BAM Fisher (Fishman Space, 321 Ashland Pl)
Dec 11 & 12 at 7:30pm; Dec 13 at 7:30 and 10pm; Dec 14 at 7:30pm - 2013
Tickets: $20

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