Thursday, August 11, 2022

Dance Review: The Curse of Reputation- Tere O’Connor Dance, Wrought Iron Fog

Hilary Clark, Daniel Clifton, Erin Gerken, Heather Olson, and Matthew Rogers, "Wrought Iron Fog" / Tere O'Connor Dance Tere O’Connor is known for being hyper-articulate. He’s good at talking about dance, talking about his work, and talking about talking.  But ultimately it’s the effect of the work which matters.  A piece must speak for itself without any supplemental commentary. O’Connor’s last piece, Rammed Earth did this brilliantly, but for reasons I’m still attempting to identify; Wrought Iron Fog leaves me dissatisfied.  Perhaps it’s the curse of creating something brilliant that makes it impossible for the following piece to live up to it.

I’m surprised by many of his choices in Wrought Iron Fog.  From the very beginning it reeks of concert dance.  Warm, flattering side-light fades up to reveal five dancers dispersed in the space like trees in a mystical forest, their feet planted in place, their bodies doing googley articulations a la Forsythe.  Is it this?  Or a parody of this?  It’s hard to guess his intention.

It doesn’t stay here for long.  Instantaneous shifts from one ambiguous thing to the next are a constant.  The change is clear, but what it was, and what it has changed to, leave a lot of space for interpretation.  Dance phrases of arabesques and relevés spontaneously become static bodies with just twinkling fingers or gyrating pelvises.  The new thing is layered on top of the last thing with seemingly no connection beyond the fact that they are next to each other.  They are only related by proximity.

Are You a Dancer?  Join iDANZ Today! The cinematic shifts in perspective which were characteristic of Rammed Earth, and what made it so visually captivating, appear only rarely here.  I see it once clearly when Hilary Clark falls back away from the group, reaching out with both arms the whole way until she hits "bottom."  It’s as if we’re above the scene looking down; the "camera angle" is from above.  The comedy and the drama of this moment work like magic.

I connect most to the piece in the more physically rigorous sections:  the animalistic crawling on the floor, the whirling, spiraling movement, or the repeated running out of control until they fall to the floor, and I hear the squeaking of flesh skidding across marley.  It’s here that I’m completely engaged, experiencing it viscerally.

At one point all five dancers stand still in formation waiting for the music to come in, and for the first time in James Baker’s sound score, it sounds like a song.  The dance is frontal and presentational, and their faces are sexy and expressive as they mouth secret messages.  Here he’s clearly criticizing this, but I’m enjoying this.  If they were doing it seriously, I would think it cliché, but knowing that they are making fun justifies my indulgence.

Hilary Clark, Daniel Clifton, Erin Gerken, Heather Olson, and Matthew Rogers, "Wrought Iron Fog" / Tere O'Connor Dance A prolonged sequence of unison movement signals that it’s the climax and it’s moving towards an end.  But isn’t this the standard formula?  Is O’Connor commenting on the standard formula, or using it?  Maybe claiming to criticize something is just an excuse to use it.

Tere O’Connor’s ideology of dance attempts to diminish the expectation of representation or underlying narrative.  As he puts it, dance is "sub-linguistic."  I agree with this approach to dance completely, but if you’re not going to use narrative or language, then the movement, sound and visual aspects of the piece better speak.  Parts of Wrought Iron Fog do, but much of the work’s ambiguity leaves me disconnected.  Perhaps if I didn’t already view Tere O’Connor as such a genius, I’d be thrilled by the piece. That’s the curse of reputation.

Photography by Yi-Chun Wu

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Official Dance Review by Julie Fotheringham
Performance: Tere O’Connor Dance,
Wrought Iron Fog
Venue: Dance Theater Workshop, New York City
Show Date: November, 10, 2009

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