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Tere O'Connor Dance

'Lawn

by Jenai Cutcher

October 17, 2003 -- Dance Theater Workshop, New York

I’ve always 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 commentary.

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 his work.

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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