Tere O'Connor: DANCE THEATER WORKSHOP
Burton, Johanna, Artforum International
A few years ago, the choreographer Tere O'Connor issued a kind of challenge to those responding in print to his live pieces: "What would happen to the writing if you brought nothing to it? No pencil, no paper. It would have to be about a second sensation that arises in the critic. Or not. Who knows? I'm just saying, let's try this together." Unknowingly, as I had not yet come across these words, I ended up complying with O'Connor's request when I attended his sixty-minute Wrought Iron Fog, 2009, this past November. But I wouldn't have had much use for pad and paper anyway, since taking time away from watching the dance to make notes would have meant missing passages of lean, surprising movement whose contours couldn't be wrangled with any reflective fidelity into language anyway.
This said, a desire to write about the work persisted. And besides, I don't take O'Connor's wariness (voiced by him more than once) about what happens when dance and discourse meet to mean that he subscribes to some idea of dance as either purely outside of language or experienced only in the realm of the fleeringly ephemeral (both time-worn cliches for performance practice). Rather than moving away from language, the choreographer forces an examination of its seeming transparency. O'Connor would seem to ask that those writing about dance allow words to perform as strangely as he allows bodies to: flirting with conventions and quotations while also rendering them deeply strange.
Wrought Iron Fog--performed by Hilary Clark, Daniel Clifton, Erin Gerken, Heather Olson, and Matthew Rogers--was, for me, revelatory in this regard. O'Connor's choreography (one deeply indebted, he makes clear, to a thoroughly collaborative process with his dancers) makes no bones about its status as and within Dance. (This has led too often to critics ascribing to the practice an emphasis on "movement" and a corresponding turn away from "the conceptual," a binary that threatens to push O'Connor into a weirdly conservative position and doesn't do justice to his rigorous entwining and undoing of these categories.) Yet O'Connor's nods to variations of dance (from Balanchine to Bausch) serve to render them wild, unkempt, loosened from their presumed camps. …