Tere O’Connor is probably as well known these days for exposing the nakedness of the emperors of dance criticism as he is for his imaginative, provocative, and humorous choreography. Yet, as he prepares for his 20th anniversary season, he says in some ways he finds all the ruckus surprising.
“From this side, it feels really soft. I never thought about being avant-garde, or radical—only, ‘how big can my imagination be?’”
O’Connor’s last work, the award-winning “Frozen Mommy,” garnered some ambiguous critical reaction that he felt necessitated a response—which continues to play out, most recently in The Village Voice. The basic issue began as what O’Connor saw as an inability to look at his work on its own terms, and through the prism of contemporary life.
“The way I’m looking at my work these days is like dance as a DNA sample,” says O’Connor, “and I’m doing stem cell work. There are certain elemental parts, such as time passing, that I’m interested in isolating. Each phrase doesn’t have to develop into a new thing. It’s not called abstraction, or non sequitur, or surrealism—it’s dance. It has twins in dream and film. I’m inspired by Antonioni, and his writing in ‘That Bowling Alley on the Tiber.’ Starting from the smallest little idea, and developing it not as a story, but as itself, to see what it generates.”
“The desire to elucidate a theme is reductive,” he continues. “Writing is good for that, not dance. In 20 years I’ve learned that the revelation of thematic information is not the best thing that choreography can do. It has its own systemic importance, and I want to ride that.”
Dance, O’Connor proclaims, is “a journey away from language,” and the title is the point of exit. The name of his latest work, which he says is unrelated to the previous one, is “Baby.”
“The word becomes a portal for entry into the dance,” he states, “a thought that can be suspended and referred to throughout the performance by the audience.”
More than a gadfly, O’Connor genuinely cares about educating audiences about dance, and praises Cathy Edwards, Artistic Director of DTW for her conversations with artists, which are printed in the front of the theater’s programs.
He adds his own words of advice—and demystification for would be dancegoers, old and new.
“Don’t look for narrative; don’t think there’s an intellectual superiority here for you to uncover. There’s no secret. It can be scary for people who are used to seeing things in black and white. Dance invites you to let go of any single meaning.”