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Review, 3-28: Surreal is as Surreal does
Tere O'Connor's Frozen 'Baby'
Copyright 2006 Gus Solomons jr
NEW YORK -- Tere O'Connor
recently stirred up controversy in the dance community by looking
a gift horse in the mouth: objecting
to Joan Acocella's characterization of him in her favorable New
as a "downtown surrealist." His non-literal non-narrative choreography
juxtaposes dialog, vocal noises, and other theatrical bits along
with obsessive spatial patterns and eccentric movement. And the
five wonderful dancers in his troupe animate the work with their
O'Connor claims that
his characters all start out as women, including the two men in
the cast, and that's true literally in his new "Baby," seen in its
premiere at Dance Theater Workshop Friday. Matthew Rogers starts
the piece with a funny, twangy monologue about his imaginary horse
named Whatever, which he's leading on make-believe reins. He's dressed
in a cowboy hat and boots and a black miniskirt. Then, Hilary Clark,
Erin Gerken, Heather Olson, and Christopher Williams rush onto the
stage doing fast Graham triplets, wearing frontier-era, long gingham
What ensues is a series
of episodes with no palpable relationship to each other or any apparent
sequential logic. O'Connor says he wants to free himself from "the
default settings of choreography based on musical structures and
narrative frameworks." In "Baby" he explores the passage of time.
His creative method is not to "fix" what doesn't work as it "oozes
out," but to replace it with new material, letting the old fall
away, until he has created something that pleases him.
Without a lot of prior
prompting about that process, the result can seem arbitrary and
baffling to an audience. The natural expectations we form watching
images like a huge pink bow that hangs upstage dominating our view,
a fist fight that turns on a dime to "kissy-kiss" cordiality, dancers
singing nonsense words, describing their own action -- "Now I'm
going here. Now I'm going here" -- and cursing vehemently at a gauzy
pink tube festooned with tiny pink bows that hangs at the downstage
corner of the stage, seem to cry for narrative connection. O'Connor
gives us none.
Intermittent music by
O'Connor's long-time collaborator James Baker and lighting and set
design by O'Connor and Brian McDevitt add handsome aural and visual
reinforcement to the restless atmosphere.
"Baby" seems to grow
from similar creative impulses as the choreographer's Bessie Award-winning
"Frozen Mommy" from last season, but it's less dynamically varied,
more repetitive in its theatric devices. Whatever the success of
the work in question, O'Connor enjoys provocation, and many of us
are willing to go along for the ride. But he might check the dictionary
definition of "surreal." One seems to describe his work to a tee:
"phantasmagoric: characterized by fantastic imagery and incongruous