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1.16.15

Artist Voices: Tere O’Connor on the Value of Learning What Doesn’t work

Sara C. Nash
Program Director, Dance
NEFA

Choreographer Tere O’Connor received a National Dance Project Production Grant in 2012 for the creation and touring of Bleed as well as a Production Residencies for Dance (PRD) grant for a three week residency at the Maggie Allesee National Center for Choreography (MANCC) in August 2013 to prepare the work for premiere and touring. At the outset, one of the main goals for the PRD residency at MANCC was to collaborate with a team of architects to create a set for the work.

Below, Tere describes the process of discovering that the set wouldn’t ultimately work. (Excerpted from an interview between Tere and Jennifer Calienes, Independent Consultant and Founding Director of MANCC.)

What is happening in any work is that the dance itself is kind of a journey away from the source. Particularly in my work, it is not a definition of the source or a reification of the source. It really is that the source is a portal to go on some journey. So many elements that are present at the beginning - in this instance the set, which we can go into more- they are just a catalyst and they need to be looked at in their fullness and then they may or may not last. But they are ghosted in the experience, ultimately.

In our PRD residency, we had Julie Larson and Roger Hubeli from Aptum Architecture, who had done a past set of mine. I wanted to do a project with them where they were more involved with the collaboration from the start and with the PRD support, we were able to have them in residence at the same time that the work was being developed at MANCC. 

The idea for the piece was to have a total space that was created through both the dancers and the space above them, one large kind of weather going on. And it was a really interesting idea. They did about five different iterations of what the set was going to be when we were there and the different kind of mechanics of it and the different kind of materials that might be used. They did a lot of research into what would be tourable about the set and what would be recyclable about the set and it was really beautiful what they came up with. 

Ultimately, speeding ahead, I decided not to use the set, though, because it started to feel extraneous to me and it started to maybe be a little bit of answering a kind of tacit question that hangs over our heads- that you have to have a full theatrical operation to make a valid dance. And really one of the basic messages that I have for whomever gets to see my work in the time I’m on earth is that “Dance is the whole research.” It includes all of the signals that have gone into it and it emits a convergent signal. 

I look at my work as almost Jungian, that I am bringing up all kinds of poly-cultural, poly-historical references, but they are not pronounced in the work, they live in the work.  The set idea is the same kind of thing. So, to have this opportunity with a production residency to go all the way through this thing and then understand that it isn’t necessarily working. Instead of doing that at the theater, and being like Oh My God, I have my weird cousin in the piece and I’ve got to keep her in there, you know, I was able to get rid of it. 

But the experience really kind of created an idea about the space that I was creating inside of the work.  So, to some the degree, the idea of architecture and something hovering over the piece, still found its way into the work.

Check out the video of Tere O’Connor at MANCC’s and read more about the entire process of creating Bleed at bleedtereoconnor.org.

Bleed is currently on tour. Catch upcoming performances at The Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, MN, on March 19-21, 2015.