October 17, 2003 -- Dance Theater
Workshop, New York
liked the way Tere O’Connor sees things. He deals with social and cultural
issues that affect everybody in such a way that anybody can actually access
it. In works like “The World is a Missing Girl,” “Choke,” and “Hi, Everybody,”
O’Connor uses irony and dry humor to examine current affairs, raise questions,
and provoke reactions. He casts light on absurdities in our society by
being absurd himself. He’s a much more stylish and coordinated version
of Michael Moore and his clever choreography serves us all well as cultural
He employs all his signature tactics in his new work, “Lawn,” but not
in such the succinct way I have come to appreciate. The message is quite
clear: we treat the earth horribly – but aesthetically, the elements meander
along, never coming together in ways as satisfying as his other pieces.
Perhaps it has something to do with O’Connor’s introduction of video into
With a screen framed in foliage behind the dancers, 2-D and 3-D work conjointly
for the duration of “Lawn.” Although the film credit goes to Ben Speth,
it is clear that O’Connor’s ideas and artistry were the driving forces
behind its creation. On screen, a freakish Mother Nature (O’Connor in
a ratty blonde wig and blacked-out teeth) pursues two littering picnickers
(Caitlin Cook and Justin Jones). On stage, the two receive physical reprimands
for their ecological negligence. These scenes were interspersed with more
general images which, enclosed in their leafy frame, looked like O’Connor’s
grotesque twist on landscape paintings: razed land off the highway, suburban
streets lined with condos and pre-fab developments, litter floating amongst
oblivious people on a busy New York intersection.
Each dancer is initially seen on film performing some rote activity: chopping
vegetables, reading, working at a computer. The first time we see them
onstage, all six are dressed in monkish robes and looking somewhat grim.
Rhythmically square to match the score by James Baker, the movement is
a series of dips and turns, simple step patterns and angles. An incredibly
satisfying arrangement of groupings, counterpoints, and repetitions, these
few minutes are the most abstract of the entire piece.
Once this was done and the dancers had discarded the robes for a more
suburban look, film and live action worked hand in hand. Much of the choreography
appeared to be derived from pantomiming specific activities. Sometimes
the cast quite literally acted out the scenes on the screen. Sometimes
they created action to fit into the backdrop. Erin Gerken and Luis DeRobles
Tentindo matured from planted seeds to growing flowers. Four dancers imitate
a large tree blowing in the wind behind them with a simple run and an
outstretched arm. A shot of an open meadow on the wall extends to the
stage where dancers are lying in it or picking flowers as they shriek
calmly. One scene dissolves into another, then another, and another.
It’s not that either medium simply does not work – it’s not even that
the two do not work together - but “Lawn” remains a bit unkempt by the
evening’s end. Although the exact cause of this still eludes me, I left
the theatre feeling unsettled and a little unclear (not about the content,
which would be easier to justify) but about the form.
Throughout the piece, it was very clear that the choreography and film
worked together on many levels and were both integral parts in conveying
the ideas O’Connor wanted to communicate. I wonder if the two were thus
developed simultaneously and if so, what effect that has on envisioning
the final product. Maybe the storytelling adeptness that I so love about
this company fell by the wayside as a result of either O’Connor having
to concentrate on this additional element of film during the creative
process or me having to do it during the viewing. Or maybe this ambiguity
is exactly the effect O’Connor wanted his piece to have. Regardless, the
fact that Tere O’Connor can captivate an audience even when dealing with
garbage and grass is testament to his brilliance as a choreographer.
Edited by Jeff.
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