featured photo
The Kitchen
Brought to you by
Body Wrappers;
New York Flash Review Sponsor
the New York manufacturer of fine dance apparel for women and girls. Click here to see a sample of our products and a list of web sites for purchasing.
With Body Wrappers it's always
performance at its best.

Go back to Flash Reviews
Go Home

Flash Review 3, 5-23: Without Words
From the Performative to the Vulnerable, Tere O'Connor Finds the Gestures that Speak Volumes

By Vanessa Manko
Copyright 2002 Vanessa Manko

NEW YORK -- Over the past two weekends, Tere O'Connor premiered his latest work "Winter Belly" and gave the New York premiere of "Choke" at Danspace Project at St. Mark's Church. I was lucky enough to see "Winter Belly," fittingly enough, on a chilly spring evening. A starkly beautiful, yet surprisingly humorous work, "Winter Belly" is set in an idiosyncratic winter wonderland of sorts. The mood of "Winter Belly" is something akin to stepping out to greet a winter morning only to witness the latent, furtive activity of nature in a seemingly still winter landscape; there is the burrowing away of animals, the staking out of territory, and the crackling sound of ice breaking and melting. A series of barren silver bluish trees outlining the stage, combined with moody gray blue lighting by Brian MacDevitt, helped to magnify this effect.

However austere the stage set for "Winter Belly" is, the dancing was anything but. O'Connor has presented a winter world to sink one's teeth into. The stage tentatively comes to life as a series of dancers, standing tall and rigid, form a semi-circle around a flailing, prostrate body. Soon after, this arena is filled with a flurry of activity as couples lace arms and glide round and round in circles, their glazed-over faces staring up into a threatening sky. And thus we are launched into a veritable menagerie. At times graceful and fluid, and others caustic and frenetic, dancers whip themselves into contractions and angular, bird-like movements. There is a pulsating and vibrating of the limbs in O'Connor's work. Repetition and anxious animalistic dancing finds its place here as well. A signature motif in "Winter Belly" is a sort of ferral use of the hands: with arms held above their heads, the dancers are still except for this quick pawing and kneading.

Performers continually enter and leave the stage in this work. At one point O'Connor and a strangely beautiful long-limbed and lanky Chrysa Parkinson are left alone to perform a duet of difficult and lashing floor-work. An angelic-faced Heather Olsen, whose wide-eyed facial expressions and mannerisms make her both a deft physical comedian and expressive dancer, tentatively peers out from backstage, entering to run circles round and round the stage, each time tracing a smaller circle around herself. Considering the minute movements and complexity of the dancing that has preceded this moment, the simplicity of this furtive long-lunged running is serenely compelling. Through the erratic movements, there is also a great deal of funky, hip-swaying dancing. Here the dancers move quite adeptly from an animalistic style to a more breezy, slinky sort of movement set to the equally erratic music of James Baker, consisting of excerpts from the work of Sofia Gubaidulina. In "Winter Belly," O'Connor has quite impressively managed to find a sometimes erratic, sometimes lucidly lyrical way of choreographically expressing the playfulness, danger, complexity and beauty of nature in that most secretive and magical of seasons: Winter.

The second work of the evening was the New York premiere of "Choke," an ode, of sorts, to our pedestrian movements and gestures. In fact, in order to create this work, dancers studied people's movements on the street, copying and incorporating these gestures. Therefore, embedded in the witty, pithy dancing are these highly stylized parodies of humans in the everyday. The same dose of hilarity that occasionally surfaced in "Winter Belly" comes to the fore in "Choke." And here we can see O'Connor's pure sense of humor, his acknowledgement of the inanity of people's day-to-day behavior and mannerisms. The absence of text -- text being an element O'Connor has repeatedly used in previous works-- is actually an added benefit here, for we get a panoply of over-the-top, thoroughly communicable gestures, ranging from the lovely to the ludicrous. O'Connor finds the beauty in the elegant sweep of an arm as one pours a cup of coffee, or reaches for the telephone. The body language we use in conversation and absent-minded small talk is also presented in "Choke": hands placed indignantly or casually on the hips, the incessant nodding of the head in affirmation as one talks on a cell phone. The personalities of the dancers emerge with greater force in "Choke." The individuality of each of the dancers is a particularly interesting part of O'Connor's work; he has chosen charismatic, unique and complex dancers to work with.

For all the humor of "Choke," it is not without its pathos. Perhaps the most jarringly sad moment comes at the end. Three dancers, seated cross-legged, unexpectedly begin to convulse from crying unabashedly; their chests heave and their faces become contorted with masks of pain. It's as if O'Connor has chosen to show us at our most performative -- the small talk, the gestures, the expressions we use in daily life -- and at our most vulnerable. In truth, a sigh swept through the audience as the lights faded out to close this work.

Among the other many praise-worthy performers in these two works were Caitlin Cook, Erin Gerken, Justin Jones, Luis DeRobles Tentindo, and Greg Zuccolo.

Go back to Flash Reviews
Go Home