Photography by Ian Douglas
Although the 11 dancers in Tere O'Connor's Bleed, which has its world premiere this week at BAM's Next Wave Festival, may could be described as coming from a diverse array of genders, races, ages, and sexual identifiers, the choreographer says that's not intentional. "I'm not looking at the outside of who people are. What people look like isn't a concern of mine," he explains. "Those are all people I'd want to sit down and talk to for five hours straight. I'm not looking at a style or value system—people are shifting in and out of persona in my work, and they take on a lot of different qualities."
It's this very fluidity and lack of judgment that has shone through in O'Connor's many works over the past 27 years. His last major choreographed piece, 2011's Cover Boy, was an all-male dance that purportedly took its inspiration from the idea of the pin-up and the closeted gay experience (although NYTimes dance critic Claudia La Rocco said she was reminded of Marilyn Monroe as well). But O'Connor is quick to negate literal readings or interpretations of his abstract work. "I kind of hope for androgyny in the world, but not a fight for it," he says. "In a poetic way, everyone in my work starts as a woman and sometimes they move towards maleness and retreat back to being women."
For the hour-long Bleed, O'Connor sourced his own work—three pieces that he'd choreographed with some of these same dancers—and says that he "collapsed" these into this fourth, completely new piece, although, as he explains in artist notes: "ghosts of the other dances resonate through this work and shape its form..."
O'Connor says he's fully aware that many people have "certain defaults" in they way they perceive dance—whether in narrative structures or styles. He doesn't mean to resist that pressure so much as "reposition where story lives in consciousness."
In Bleed, dancers quake and pounce, they vocalize (particularly the stunning Oisín Monaghan, who has a haunting keen as he runs across the stage) and stomp in semi-tribal unison, but they also have poignant moments of more traditional social dancing or classical movements.
"What they are doing is profoundly virtuosic; they have so many different kinds of embodiments. Another thing I feel sad about dance is that people read dance as a series of styles juxtaposed against each other," he explains. "The word 'Bleed' is about how those differences create a new experience in your head. What does their juxtaposition result in? Two things converse to create a third thing."
To further explain that language of abstraction he strives for in dance, O'Connor recalls an early seminal experience for him when he confronted abstraction for the first time. He grew up in a small town and later visited the National Museum in D.C. where he saw a Robert Motherwell painting. "I remember it feeling like a duel," he explains. "OK, Abstraction, what are you trying to say to me? I could be completely reactionary or fall into you." He says that was the moment he fell in love with the realtionship between the viewer and abstraction. "I felt like we were communicating with each other from our chests instead of from our faces; it was something bigger, a message that was put out there and said: bring your fullness to it."
This is the goal O'Connor strives for in his own dance work, rather than seeking to communicate specific ideas, he wants people to bring their own experiences—"your history, world history, your present vision"—and have them bump up against what's happening with the dancers on stage to create something completely new. "It's not a tyrannical message," he says. "It's a curative for the whole world."