Tere O'Connor in conversation with Alejandra Martorell


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Alejandra Martorell: The basic question is: what are you working on with Baby?

Tere O'Connor: I should introduce it by saying that, in the last couple of pieces, I’ve been trying to go back to the beginnings. Which is, trying to find out some fundamental aspects of the form and then expand them to try to use them as process. For example, with Frozen Mommy, I was thinking about tangential thoughts, by which I mean thoughts that just sort of bounce from one thing to the next, and how if you take them out of the context of stream of consciousness, or absurdity, or surrealism, or non sequitur, they become this positive element of dance, of what dance really is. I wanted to really honor that and use that as my process, so that the structure of a dance evolves; it doesn’t get calculated into existence. And if I have a secret kind of theme and variation in the back of my head, or a secret narrative, I want to really keep detaching from those, and come up with an abstraction that is documenting the time I’m living in. It doesn’t explain it; it happens in tandem with it, and it’s brought into being from its energies. I don’t have to be logical, but once I find out what all the elements of a thing are, then I have to find its logical structure by letting it become itself.

Baby is about letting every next thing be born. I looked at the ways that I make phrases, and I tried to analyze—why do I put this thing after this other thing? And it’s always about breaking a sense of harmony for me. It’s not necessarily towards a rebellion. It’s an effort to say that the way that I’m standardized to think through language is painful and I have to do this also. Each thing is new. Each thing doesn’t explain the thing before it. And that is what I’m looking at with Baby. The other thing I’m trying to do with Baby—and it isn’t relative to the title—has to do with time passing. It’s another one of these elemental things in dance, it is almost banal. Time passing; that time is going on. What if I used that as a system?

When we were down in Florida, at the Maggie Allesee National Center for Choreography, I said, alright, let’s take this literally. I’m not going to edit anything; I’m only going to move forward. And I’m going to keep everything. Everything that comes out, I’m going to keep and move forward, and each thing is going to bring the next thing. I started to arrive at this place where choreography could be a metaphor for something other than calculation, or fixing, or setting.

In this piece there’s this cowboy thing that comes out, you’ve probably seen it in the card, and that happened last year in January. It came out and I don’t really like it, but I decided to keep it. So instead of being a choreographer who says I’m going to pick the best things, I said “I’m going to keep everything and create a context for those things.” And that’s another way of looking at choreographing. So that even boring things or things that are kind of cheesy almost, anything can go into the mix. It’s my job to look at their relativity—how they relate to each other and what kind of structural building ends up being that I’m going to put on stage. The dance itself will be born out of the coexistence of all these things. Not my cutting them, but their being together. I rearrange them. That’s how it started out. And I have cut stuff and I have edited, of course. But that was my first thing. And it was an experience that ultimately really affected how I edited when I did. It brought me into a different qualitative thought place about editing that way. But I tried, and it was horrible. It was just horrible. Hillary and Matthew and Erin were down there in Florida with me, and in three days, they each had half an hour of material because we kept going. And it was like: “what am I looking at here?”

Then this other thing came into my mind that I also started to bring in. When a viewer is watching a dance, he/she is trying to remember it, they’re trying to make little hierarchies for themselves: “that’s good”, “I’m going to keep that.” Not in such an analytical way, but somewhere in their consciousness they’re holding onto things and creating a structure for themselves. So I wanted to bring that in, too. What if the dancers didn’t know the movement so well? I started dancing and they copied me. They would try to copy what I was doing. And sometimes I would just dance, and they would follow me and try to keep everything. And there was a lot of forgetting going on. The end result of a lot of the movement came out of that process. That was the way I was trying to bring in what an audience member goes through into the room and use it in there. As opposed to saying, we’re going to calculate all these things and now you’re going to look at it and now you have to go through that process. I wanted to see what it was like to have that in the room.

But also, for the dancers to have to fix it. Not to improvise it, do it different every day. But that, much in the way a viewer tries to remember things, or they have a desire to remember things, I was trying to set that situation up in the dancers’ mind/body. Then when we got back to it in June and everyone was there, it started to switch into other things, but still I created a lot of the movement that way.

AM: As you accumulate material, is what you see accumulating giving you the character of what‘s happening, and that is informing what is going to come out of you next?

TO: To some degree.

AM: But you’re also trying not to formalize what it means, or an idea of what it is about, and just go again to whatever may be next.

TO: Yes. Ultimately, it gives me a systemic kind of information to use to structure it. I’m trying to make choreography not to be about calculation. When you see this piece, you’re going to be like, what are you talking about, it’s so calculated! But it doesn’t really matter. It’s how I’m getting there that’s important.

I have this beautiful idea that a dance isn’t from you. It’s born of you but then it kind of stands next to you and you help it become itself. But it’s not you. It’s not necessarily even an expression of you. I am working with this idea that I really want to validate for myself and for a viewer, that choreography is a documentary form, a way of processing the information of the world. If I put a camera into the studio, you’ll see a room with people in it. If I were to write about what went on in the studio, I would have to explain it with words. If I used photographs… and so on. But a piece of choreography, what it can do is it can adhere to all these different aspects of what’s going on: feelings, shape, time, world events that are shaking in our bodies, personal events, five different personal events - and I want to keep switching the planes of legibility of that thing. Asking which one of those things am I taking information from now? But not to come to a tangible narrative. That’s why I’m trying to detach and let this be this other thing. Really, for me, I know spiritual sounds so big, but it is a spirituality. It’s like a way of saying this is the only way I can be here. It’s if I can take all these very different things and bring them into close proximity with each other. And let that bounce around and become something. So that if I knock everything over on this table, it would be that, and then, I’ll see that and it will give me an energy. As opposed to knocking it down with an order that I want to see. I call it itness. It’s like trying to find the itness of what is it, as oppose to I’m making it be this. That gets really big and scary also.

I feel like I’m at this point in my life where I just want to try it. I would love to have a big change in my work, but I know from experience, you can’t have a big change quickly, it takes a long time. But you can use big change in your process to change it a little bit, and I feel that’s what I’m doing right now.

Today I was just grappling with something, trying to expand a section and make it become like a big pillow of this moment, that’s bigger and more open, and I kept working it into something that is tightly woven, and it’s too complicated, and I couldn’t do what I wanted to do. And a lot of times that decision comes up in a process where I set up to do that, and this happened. And that is a really important thing to listen to. For me, in my process. That my mind said I wanted to do that, but what ended up is that I did this other thing. And I have to go with that and, again, that is part of the thing that I want to validate about choreography. How it kind of shows you that that is what happens in your life too. You go towards something. You never get what you think you’re going to have. That’s why I think travel is so disappointing. You’re going to go somewhere, you have an image of it in your head, of what it’s going to be like, the place you’re going to stay at, and you get there and it’s all different. And the way that you imagined it, you can’t ever remember that again. It’s gone. I think that’s a really important part of perception, part of being a human being, part of the loss that everyone around you is always experiencing all the time that we don’t take into account when we are with each other, and that choreography can get theatrical about somehow. I’m trying to bring all these items in, and use them to make from.

AM: When you look at the piece now from the outside, what elements would you point out in the piece that are a direct result or show what you’re talking about?

TO: I probably wouldn’t pick one thing. I would say three things in a row and how they change from each other. And how they look next to each other and how you go from one, to two and you feel something and then you go one, two and three, and you feel something else. This kind of forward movement of the thing. It’s like how I always look at a day. This morning I was all worried about something that was a really important thing, and I was really really worried about that. That seemed like maybe thematic. Now I’m not worried about that. I’m not even thinking about that. It’s just gone. And that’s how everything is, nothing stays as central. You just give it a central character for a moment of your day or of your week, and then it always goes away. But it never stays central. So this idea of importance that theater does to imagery, I wanted us to get away from. And that sense of loss also, that sense of thinking that something is really important and then it just becomes unimportant.

Also I’m dealing a lot with this feeling about memories that used to bring me to an emotional place. But then at a certain point they kind of loose their strength to do that. And I find that really sad. That I can’t use that memory to shift my mood. Something like putting the cowboy thing there, it really came chronologically one of the first things that I made here, but I don’t want to develop it. I want it to be there and be this thing that you move away from , this tangible thing that you can hold on to that just never comes back. That’s another thing about memory and choreography and the history of expectation in a viewer. Like “Oh, I like that! I would like more of that… or not.” I’m going to manipulate that as the director to say, I know how many people would like that, and I want them to really like that so that I can create a sense of loss in them when it doesn’t come back. So that becomes one way that you can see this from the point of view of the director. But I wouldn’t say there is one place you can see that. Mostly in the movement from section, to section, to section, is where you can see it, whatever you want to call a section. From a different perceptive place to another, which you’ll see clearly.

I know that some of my other dances start to work for me when they go to this place, and to this place, and then to this other drastically different place, and another different place, and another different place, and finally I get away from what the different places are, but keep the music of the change. Like when the dancers go to these places, and they go “oh, now we’re staying on this one longer, and I was expecting it to change and it’s still in my body, but it’s not going there now. Now I’m having to come to terms with a structural thing that is going on and the images I’m reading are less important. And that is really one of the things I’m trying to do with my work, is this idea of what is the importance of identifying things as single things?

AM: Do you think that your process makes the performers feel that? What you were just describing sounded to me as coming from the perspective of the performers, but also from the perspective of the audience watching.

TO: It’s definitely in the structure, the cutting of it. And the dancers, definitely. They really go through that, and they can go through that in different ways in different nights also. There is a lot of them in it, in that change. One of the reasons I want to get away from calculation—of calculating a good structure, according to some cannon that’s in our heads—is that no one is going to be seeing it the same way anyway. You talk to someone and say: “You know, the first part and the second part…” And that person is going to say: “I thought that was all one section.” No one sees that the same way. But they can see a sense of changeability there, and on to that, they can project their own systemic ideas. Because you’ve requested it from their imagination somehow. I don’t want to say it’s only this thing. And I also don’t want to be in a completely hippie immersion. I really want to be rigorous about this because, at the end of the piece, I want you to have gone through something pretty big.

I am making these works, and I think maybe they include so many extreme differences in them, because that really represents a structure of what it’s like to be here right now, to me. I think that if it were another time, I might be much more monothematic, or in a smaller dynamic gradation that would reflect a different time more. But I feel that it’s very jarred right now by the events of the world, and I think this is reflected in my structures in a big way. I don’t want it to be like anything goes. It’s really not like that for me. There’s a certain point, once the thing is detached from my body and I’m not in love with it, or precious about it, when I go: “oh I see, it’s got its own system, now I really have to help it get to be the best version of that system that it can be.” And that really seems different for every dance. And more and more, they seem really different.

I would say, for people who know my work, that I look at Winter Belly and I look at what I’m doing know, and they are so different. So, so, so different. But a journey from one to the next is really important for me. Even one piece to the next has the same information I was saying, about one move to the next. This kind of difference that happens and I think that could happen more and more for me. If I were able to free up and let that happen.

AM: Do you ever struggle with similarity? When things are coming out and you are not editing them, do they ever start to seem the same to you?

TO: Yeah, they do. Sometimes they all seem the same size and the same length, but that’s when you become a worker. I feel like a worker more than an artist now. At that point, I see this thing is showing me what it needs. I have to go help it. That part there is crying ‘open me up a little bit.’ And I’ve learned that the system of delivery, how it comes out of my body, is never the way it should remain. For me, I am a conveyor belt of stuff for the first two months, then that conveyor belt stops and I have to look at the stuff that is in the warehouse. And start to figure it out. Part of it is the delivery and part of it is the finalization of it. That is the real distinction. That is what I’m doing right now. I know that there’s a part of this piece, three quarters of the way into it, that to me looks like an almost Aristotelian, cathartic, melancholic moment. And it feels important to me to put that about a quarter of the way into the piece. It feels important to me to have that happen too early. I’m trying to bring that there because some little gnome there is telling me to do that. Now I’m the worker trying to say this needs to happen here.

I’m working now with words like declension and conjugation as opposed to theme and variation. To say you or you plural, is the same thing but it’s not. And those ideas from grammar are big in my mind. Sameness is different but in a smaller scale of difference. And I also like to call it and live through daily what I call sameness revisited. Which is like, I’ve sat here before. I’ve thought that. The sitting is the same, the day is different, the thought is different, but the thought and the sitting are closer than the day and the thought…

You know how you turn your head and a memory is unleashed. That’s a part of choreography. It’s happening to the audience in a lot of levels. That you do one thing—an action on stage—that is in a situation, and it does something to two or three people. Suddenly they are having that memory. I try to be open to that. When I repeat something, I do want it to be anchor. I don’t want it to be theme and variation. And sometimes it’s parenthetical to me. In Frozen Mommy there’s a big one where the dancers stand in a diagonal and they go ‘closer, closer,’—then there’s a huge parenthesis and then it comes back to that same place. And you really have forgotten about it by the time it comes back. And then you go, “oh right, we were there.” Like spacing out in a more formal way. Sometimes when that thing comes up, of something being similar, I have to get out the dynamic crayolas and darken right there, this thing, or do I cut that? And those are the two different kinds of things that happen when there’s something like that.

AM: When you are talking about the different people in the audience going off to different places watching the piece, the way that you are incorporating or tapping into that experience is by having so many possible doors that keep opening in the piece? That you are trying to highlight and allow all those exits and entrances?

TO: To a degree, plus I’m trying to make a viable structure underneath it that suddenly grabs you by the seat of your pants and takes you with it. So while you’re really trying to find all these ways in and identifying, something happens where I grab you by the feet and start pulling you down into the structural, subconscious mud.

AM: How do you find what that is in the piece since you didn’t plan it ahead, it just became?

TO: That’s the whole importance of it. That you can’t. You can only find it. That’s what I’ve learned. If you make it happen, it’s coming from something canonic, pre-existing and it will smell, people will smell it. As opposed to finding it. Each dance has its nature. I think this is something I’m just finding out. I’ve been working for twenty-five years, and I’m just getting a sense of this, in my body. In my mind I may have known it, but the sense of being patient and letting this thing arrive, and going: “oh , it’s here, it’s arrived. Now, I just have to open it up and help it.” This piece right now, I’m tumbling with it. This shift from three quarter to one quarter that I told you about, I’m starting to understand that it’s telling me that. That if I put it at three quarters, it’s going to be mundane. If I put it at one quarter, it’s going to be inviting and it will give the rest of the piece a tone. And it’s a way out of the cowboy thing, because it’s going to be an immersion for a moment, more than a moment.

I’m re-enamored of Cunningham now. I’ve always been. Sometimes maybe the body language is not what I’m interested in, but right now it doesn’t really matter what I’m interested in. Choreography can work well in a million different stylistic areas. I remember being at City Center at a young age, and feel like my feet were getting muddy, there’s something slipping off the stage and he’s taking me down. And I’m watching all this kind of complication, just like I do with the stuff of being in life. Got to eat, got to this or that. But underneath it, you are moving slowly into a kind of sadness, or away from one, or into a kind of practical head. The minutia of life and the big slide. And it’s the relationship of those two things that he really can do.

I was talking at Chez Bushwick the other night and I mentioned this idea that I’ve always had about spacing out in a dance. In an excellent dance, you space out and there’s a piece of kite string attached to your top shirt button and it’s back on stage. And you’re out there, but you’re still connected to the work. As opposed to when you’re just like, “this is not working.” That’s one of the best things choreography can do for me. When some body sets up this kind of kinetic structural arena that unleashes something in you. It’s a thrilling thing about dance that, unfortunately, it’s so hard to invite a lot of people into the joy of it because they are instead stuck on “what is it about?” And it’s about that experience, when you get out of the ‘nouning’ of things. The calling things names.

AM: I’m curious about what you said about the conveyor belt and the warehouse. Why are you so convinced that the form that it comes out in is not it, it hasn’t arrived yet to its form?

TO: I’m saying this about my work, first of all. I am talking about movement. I used to think movement was a very important thing. I think it was when I was younger because I had to find this difference thing, the juxtaposition of diverse things in real close proximity. And that had to be put into my body. But now dancing and making movement are a form of ruminating for me. I start by dancing, but then idea comes out of it. And that idea could be rendered in little theatrical things, or a song, or poems. There’s a fake language in Baby, a made-up language. It can go in all these other places. Dancing is one of the many layers of a dance for me. I look at other works and I think these people are confusing dancing with dance. And dancing is like the material, but you always have to cut from the material to make the whole shirt, or whatever. All of us in the city, or in Europe or wherever, we can make a lot of really cool moves. But I don’t trust that in myself. I feel like there’s something else that I’m getting to by dancing. Some of the product of the dancing remains. Some of it has to be cut. A lot of it actually.

AM: When you do the first dancing part of the process, do you do it alone?

TO: I don’t anymore. I use to. When I was young, I had a three months of alone time and I would fix everything. But now I dance right away with the dancers.

AM: What do they do? They dance with you? They follow?

TO: Sometimes they follow, sometimes I make it really specific. With these dancers, they are so amazing, sometimes I leave it very sketchy, and they take it a little further, and I see that and then I go a little further with that. It’s definitely a dialogue with them. I’m really aware, especially with these guys—Heather, Hillary, Erin, Christopher, Matthew—they way they move, where they move from, is all very different. So it’s very exciting to see what they average out to. And what they really subtly tell each other about a certain movement. What they tell me. There is a deep dialogue, that doesn’t ever have to be mentioned, but they affect me, I re-affect it, and there’s this folding thing that is always there. I think another thing that is understood with the dancers that I work with is, once I give you this thing, it is not stopped at all. You’re growing it at the level of memory, psychology, the way you are moving it, your phrasing. It’s in a stage of growing and then I get to the point when I’m directing them when we bring that more into our consciousness, and we say: “well, this section needs to be riddled with these ideologies, or maybe just for today, and we’ll detached from that later.” But the dancers are really involved with that.

This company is great. I feel it’s the first company where I feel like I’m the old guy and they are the young people but that is only factual, it doesn’t feel like that. I love them, we’re close. I am older, they’re younger, but we are also free with each other, we are friends and they’re experts. And they’ve chosen to be with me, they’re not saying “I will dance with anyone.” They are like, this is my aesthetic and I’m a full artist and I’m in this with this person. We have different jobs in it, but we are all moving towards this thing. It’s very fulfilling to be with them. I love watching them.

AM: It all comes across watching them.

TO: They really own it. They are committed to it. One of the things about the way I choreograph, the first thing I looked at when I started making dances, is this idea of what is the stuff of dance and how can you grow it into meaning and significance. And that was unison. In my first works, and still, unison is a very big part of what I’m doing. And it points to oppression. And I use it that way. As the standardization of human behavior. It’s about sixty percent of any person. What you’re grappling with. It’s a big coat of pain on everything that is happening. And that’s how it’s in there. What my dancers are dealing with is an enormous amount of convolution, willfully in my work. It’s really complicated what they have to go through, to growl through, in an evening. It really keeps them in this state of really being there. Plus, they’ve researched a whole bunch of avenues and different gradations of feeling that can go with any one of the moments. So there’s a real multiple sourcing they can do once they are dancing.

AM: When you said that you start with the dancing and that some ideas come out and they might become a poem or a song, I would like you to talk a little bit about voicing and language and text.

TO: Much in the same way as the viewer will encounter these portals that I’ve been talking about. There are for me also. And I go in and examine some of them. And sometimes when I go in there, there is something in there, and when I go in there with no judgment and I don’t say “I have to pick the best thing,” something just comes up. For example there is this moment about vegetarianism that is in Baby and it just came up and it feels ripe with something for me. It feel like it’s part of this dance. But I don’t pretend to know why that is there. But I feel like it needs to be there. That’s what I can tell you about certain things. Certain ideas that I go into, once I go deeper into them, I think that’s going to turn into a word, or music, or dancing, or stillness. It doesn’t always render itself in more dancing.

Sometimes I think that’s why it would be very interesting to do film. One time I made this piece called Nursing the Newborn Pig, and I thought it would be so great for three seconds for everyone to be completely filled with band aids, and then they would be gone. It would be so great to have film, but as an aspect of live dance, that you could just make things happen like that. Also with the making of the music, the way we work is that I go in there and I identify this thing and I think “I want the music to be like this section or distant from it.” Or, “I’m reminded of this sound. Let’s put that in there or see how it works.”

Every junction of a dance is a way in and I could choose various things and it is about a poetic sensibility that is telling me this seems like the right one. So a step or a word or music, they could all be brought into a choreographic lens filter.

AM: It doesn’t seem like the pieces of text came to you already in verbal form. In other words, it wasn’t a conversation you heard, the vegetarianism thing for example.

TO: Oh no! Nothing is ever... Everything is born in the room for me. A lot of it is intuition. But the longer I spent in the midst of one piece, the better the intuitions get. The more pointed they get, perhaps.

One thing it is, is patience. I just put something really gross in yesterday. And I’m not cutting it yet. I know it’s gross. It looks like bad regional theater. But that might be the right color for that moment. I might want people to get a little soured at that moment to then jettison them into the next moment. So, if I cut that out, that’s a color I’ve taken out that could be really useful in the context of the piece. And if you fully hate it you can always cut it out. But that kind of I love it-I hate it thing, I really want to move further and further away from that. And just see what happens. Although half way through this process I chickened out. Because down in Florida we made this stuff I was like “oh my god, somebody shoot me in the head. I can’t watch anymore this crap.” But my first impulse, I call it the Edward Scissors hands impulse, is to go like –cut, cut, cut—and make everything crystalline. It’s something that I have an affinity for and an ability with. But I don’t think it is the best part of my work. And I would like it to open out. This is the journey towards that.

AM: When you said that, at the beginning, your body had to understand the juxtaposition of many different things, that it was something that had to get into your body. Does that mean that that came to you as a conceptual desire? An understanding of what you see life is like? And you wanted to put that into movement? Or did you go out and, whenever you moved, you switched from one thing to the next?

TO: I knew that when I moved by myself, something was different than what I learned in university. And I couldn’t come to terms with those two things. I started to know I wanted to be a choreographer, so I then made the decision after a short time of dancing with two people, that I was not going to dance with anyone else, and I never did again. I had to unearth this thing. And I am so, so, so glad that I did that, now. I mean, to dance with someone famous is the way to your own fame, and I really think it is the reason why it took me a really long time to come into notice. And what I do is not standardized. But by unearthing that moving—I didn’t know that then, I know it now in retrospect—that’s what I was looking for. And it grows out of marginalization. It grows out of being gay. And the diverse ways you use language. One to guard yourself. One that includes a very fast dynamic that lets no one in. And another one that is an internalization of everything that you’re going through. And once you mix the three of those together, this other thing comes out that is just not the way language works. So you can’t speak that way. So it came out of my body, I think.

It’s not about the sadness of being gay. I mean, that’s hard. But it’s about, actually, the kind of gift of marginalization at a young age. So you see the façade of language, you see the structure of language, you see its various uses. And you see it externalized for others and internalized for yourself in poetics.

AM: How is the part that is internalized?

TO: Internalized for myself is that I had a secretive life, I had to speak to myself. “What am I going to do?” Because I didn’t even know you could call it gay. I grew up in a place that was not urban. I was like “What is this difference? What am I going to do?” And then I went into a lot of invention. I would spend time making poems up, or making up voices in my head. And it’s not all tragic. A lot of it was fun.

Repression will bring up invention in the right circumstances. And that’s what happened to me a lot. The kind of energy of having to really select your language, I think it’s why I have an affinity to language. Because I had to really become good at it. Because it was used in a very pointed way. If someone was about to find something out, I had to go one up from them. It was a really useful thing and once you get out of the sadness—the being gay is not an issue now, it was then; it was hard back in those days. But then the blessing of it is that - that you get these different layers of understanding language.

AM: It seems that you were successful at perceiving how language was codified and limiting. And that you were able to come up with something else.

TO: To invent with it.

AM: And you did, both in movement and in actual language.

TO: The structure, the system of those, came out through my body - with words gone, literally the grammar of it. I always talk about being parenthetical, and if you’re a person who is afraid of maybe being murdered because you’re gay, parenthesis are your friend.

The structures of my dances are very parenthetical. Or adjectives. How long you can string adjectives along before you actually get to the point. That is a structural idea. And then there’s disconnect in you, and that comes out in the structure of the dancing. It becomes fragmented because you are in two worlds: in the world out there, and in the world inside, figuring out what to do. And… I probably have a learning disorder. [Laugh]

But they didn’t know what they were then. I can see what the worth is of a pluralistic look at language. I don’t like to say this, but I think back and I think.. it’s Irish. I’m Irish, and there is something Irish about this. Recently there’s this thing between Ewan Mc… and this British…. John … somebody wrote that the British uses literature as a window into clarity and the Irish uses it as a stained glass that keeps multiplying and changing its colors. And it’s very kind of chauvinistic in a way, between these two countries, but I’m not really connected to that. I was listening to that and thinking that it might be genetic. Like Joyce. If you read him. How he fractured everything. The reason it had such force from him is because it came natural. It wasn’t calculated. There’s great intelligence behind it, but it was born out of a way of perceiving language. And it affected everything. It’s really interesting to think about language as relative to dance, structurally. It’s very interesting to me.

AM: It could have to do with the political relationships, as what you said about being gay can also be applied to any marginalized position.

TO: Everyone’s language has to be filtered through that kind of socialization. And the different kinds of hierarchies of your life are reflected in the way you use language and the way language is foisted upon you.

AM: It makes me think of the word ‘wholeness’ the same way that when you talked about the conveyor belt made me think about the concept of ‘authentic’ movement. Of how these concepts, like wholeness or authentic, are so highly valued in the hierarchy. And it is assumed that if you reach them, you will be happy. It seems to me that you are talking from a very different place. One of observing that that is not the nature of anything.

TO: And letting that become reflected in the process of making the thing.

AM: It’s big, because they are really up there as principles of desirable values.

TO: In no way do I think that we shouldn’t be paid a lot of money to be choreographers and dancers, but since I haven’t been and I’ve lived a life of really not having that much money, the kind of desires for things that a lot of people have, isn’t a part of me. And I’m not saying I’m special, it’s just so not available that you don’t research that desire. And something else moves into importance for you. Something else comes into focus as what you are floating on. And I’ve really seen that happening with me. Once I realized I couldn’t work in any commercial setting. I could, but I couldn’t stay there or sustain it. And the freedom of that. Now I feel like I can detach and let go of being a personae in front of my work with a name, and just see what is it like if I’m just its helper. It helps me to be in the room that way. I owe it to you/the dance. And that goes back to Baby for me. That the dance is like a baby; the thing itself I’ve given birth to. That metaphor isn’t great but. At the end, you got this big [baby sound] experience that equals whatever this baby is.

AM: I think that the thing that moves into focus, a lot of it is observation.

TO: I think that is really true. And I always try to remember to say this when I teach ”just notice what you’re doing.” And then call it ‘what you’re doing.” That is really the thing and that parallels what it’s like to be in a life. Instead of “I wish I was doing that…” “well, you’re not. You’re doing this. It’s this. What are the sensations that come out of that?” Which is the same thing as “I want to fix this dance.” Instead of seeing it. It’s a pretty cool thing, and I feel fortunate to have made it through whatever this crazy maze is, to keep working and to carve a space for myself to ask these questions. And keep going with it.

AM: What is next?

TO: I’m doing a dance with 15 people in it. I’m really excited about it. I don’t know anything about it process wise. It’s for the Lyon Opera Ballet. I’m going to do it in August and it’s going to open in September. It’s going to be in the Lyon Biennale de Danse, which is great.

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Tere O'Connor

Tere O’Connor is the Artistic Director of Tere O’Connor Dance and a Center for Advanced Studies Professor at the University of Illinois. He has created over 40 works for his company and many commissio...
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