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Tere O'Connor Dance

'Winterbelly’ and ‘Choke’

by Karen Hildebrand

September 5, 2003 -- Yerba Buena Center, San Francisco

"Winterbelly" opens with a spotlight illuminating a man lying prone, swimming his legs and arms as if the light pattern on the floor was a pool of water. It’s Tere O’Connor, a man who though uncharacteristically chubby for a dancer, moves with striking fluidity and precise articulation. His hair is a shock of curls that springs like a stem topping a carrot. A Guggenheim fellow, and the recipient of two New York Dance and Performance Awards (Bessies), who recently choreographed a solo work for Mikhail Baryshnikov’s 2003 tour O’Connor is based in New York. This is the San Francisco debut of two of his recent works, "Winterbelly" (2002) and "Choke" (2001).

Surrounding O’Connor as he flops and flails on the stage surface, are four women and two men, wearing androgynous tunics and capri’s of ice blue, white and navy. They begin to move in a vocabulary that is both fluid and angular, a gestural text that evokes, without mimicking, the behavior of birds. The dancers hop, lean, tilt, and turn their heads. The music at times sounds like the flapping of wings. The audience chuckles when the dancers become shuffling pairs of penguins, or when they stop with their arms suspended overhead, elbows relaxed, to absently rub their fingers together.

The set is a simple grove of blue leafless trees with branches that are slightly bent as if in the wind. Music by James Baker (with excerpts from the work of Sofia Gubaidulina) punctuates orchestral strains with the sound of bells, buzzing alarm clocks, dentist drills, and the shrill whistle of a bad microphone connection.

These birds are out of their element, reaching with akimbo arms and outstretched fingers to adjust to an unfamiliar winter season. O’Connor and a tall angular woman preen in a duet of mutual grooming activities, plucking a loose feather from a partner’s head. In a trio, a man and a woman dribble a second woman back and forth between them—the woman pushing outstretched hands against the woman’s chest, and the man catching the back of the woman’s head in his hand. The piece ends with the dancers’ arms curving overhead, mirroring the wintery windbent trees as if the birds have become one with their environment.

In "Choke," three women and two men wear sleeveless black torso-hugging shells and pants that emphasize the gold glow of the dancers’ skin. Four horizontal rows of white fabric drape the rear scrim. The music of James Baker (this time with excerpts from the work of Russian composer, Alfred Schnittke), alternates from cello strains performed by Wendy Sutter to environmental sounds like moaning and cocktail party chatter. Occasionally the score ramps up into a driving rhythm. The movement is highly gestural and at times given to pantomime. But motions of answering the phone, smoking, and head scratching, in the hands of O’Connor, are not story telling. The dancers simply report a series of passing images. " What I think and what I move exist in parallel lines, they do not meet and they do not describe each other, yet their simultaneous presence comprises meaning," O’Connor writes in his artists statement for the program magazine.

Sometimes the dancers mouth phrases, weep, or gape open their mouths in a mute yell. At the end, the entire group silently sobs to the sound of a record player stylus scratching on vinyl.

O’Connor has a distinctive vocabulary that is immediately recognizable in both works. Notably, neither piece includes spoken text, an element O’Connor has become known for. Instead O’Connor deftly wields his movement signature so that it reads differently in each of these two pieces. As he states in the program, "No longer on a youthful search for a personal voice, I search for the correct "language" for a given work." The result, as seen in this evening of work, is subtle and smart.

 

Edited by Jeff.

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