Tere O’Connor
at the 2018 ADF

One dancer stands on stage, her arms up in a V. She drops her elbows, bounces her arms back up, then veers in a little leaning circle, arm crooked as if carrying a tray. Her face is impassive. Seven other dancers spill from the wings and match her. Their geometric forms, arrayed along the diagonal, light up the stage’s volume. Then they scatter and individuate; they relate; they imitate. Now people, now abstract entities, they move in couples, trios, singles, or all together, trading focus undramatically. Their motion can be compass-like or frilly, pedestrian or balletic. They run about like sandpipers fleeing before invisible waves; they enact whimsical impossibilities, buttering the air; they react, all at once, to invisible apparitions. They cavort and they skip. Sometimes one might almost die, but as cleanly as a bird on the wing. Nothing lasts long, and there’s no reason, but plenty of rhyme—or perhaps rhyme is the only reason that matters. The dance is what it is, but by the time you’ve thought about it, it isn’t.

If you’ve seen Tere O’Connor’s choreography before, his new work Long Run, an American Dance Festival co-commission, offers a cerebral pleasure as cool as diving into a pool. You watch, you watch yourself watch, and every moment rewards your attention with switches, details, fillips, filligrees. Teasing the apparatus of meaning, O’Connor’s well-schooled mind, with its voluminous library of references, pours over each frame of the dance, nudging it toward felicity.

Special to the Clarion Content

by freelance correspondent Lightsey Darst 

Photo by Chris Kayden, courtesy of Live Arts Bard

Long Run -photo by Chris Kayden, courtesy of Live Arts Bard

No less than the choreography, O’Connor’s dancers amaze the eye. They change direction like flags in the wind; they shift textures effortlessly, now crisp origami, now flickering fire. It doesn’t hurt that they’re personally lovely, and outfitted by Strauss Bourque-Lafrance in enviable ensembles (a silky spearmint-striped jumpsuit; a white chiffon tunic buttoned to the chin, long tails left flapping; a hunter green sweater, sheer), they’re as beautiful and hip as brunch in Brooklyn.

What even to say about the music—a suite of boops and beeps and staticky pops, drones and tones like a capella from the deep future, like vaporwave only sweeter—all of it created by O’Connor himself… What might be extraordinary elsewhere simply blends into the resources expended on this dance. All this creates an experience of pure luxury, an immersion in the art of watching.

But midway through my attention sags. Is it me? I admit I’m out of practice. Twitter and the Trump “presidency” have worn me thin, or maybe it’s parenting. Either way I’m losing the thread, these flitting butterflies out of focus in front of me while my mind runs on possible harms and defenses against those harms for myself, my work, my kids; I may be watching but I’m no longer tracing, trying to make anything, watching myself watching. The delightful entertainment of fitting and refitting meaning—like making ball gowns for clouds—has crumbled.

I make a powerful effort to get back in it. I ask dutiful questions: What particular tasks might O’Connor have set himself in this work? His movement here looks more like Merce Cunningham than I recall from earlier works—perhaps not an accident since this piece grew out of a solo for Silas Riener, who danced with Cunningham’s company until its close. And this more athletic motion, changing direction and focus often and with such precision—do I make something more out of that, a theme, a meaning? Then there’s Eleanor Hullihan’s late solo, which has her flinging and flipping around stage, her sensuous hair and limbs rippling, an expression—a challenge?—crossing her face. For a moment something seems to be at stake. Something is, but then it’s gone.

Which is not to say there’s nothing to be take home. O’Connor makes me ask questions: what is arrival in dance? What is a relationship in motion? And it’s short step from wondering about this ever unraveling and reforming dance to wondering about my similarly un- and re-raveling life. How can I live in this flux where nothing stays longer than the time it takes to notice it?

I won’t go further. Nothing so crass as a moral could be supported by this effervescent dance. We like to label and know, but, as O’Connor reminds us, you might as well take a snapshot of the rain. But I could be wrong, I keep finding myself saying, as I chalk up various meanings and references; I could be wrong.

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Lightsey Darst

Lightsey Darst is a writer and arts organizer. Find her poetry at Coffee House Press.

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