As I write this, my friend and mentor Tere O’Connor is turning 60 years old. He’s had a long run in dance and his new piece is aptly named. Because of his sustained prolific output I was able to see Long Run at Bard College in 2017 with the luminous memory shards of his previous works floating in the back of my mind. This new piece extends Tere’s epic narrative like a body generating another new limb. Actions appear and disappear, imaginatively refashioning themselves as persistent memories or future wishes. Is this work autobiographical? Tere would almost certainly reject this reading. Too neat. Too obvious.
Longevity in this field is something of a spectacle. Tere’s generous contribution to the field claims more territory than any other choreographer living today. It twists and turns its way through narrative and abstraction, dream-like states and stark presentational modes. It screams at you and then whispers. It absorbs formal dance steps and raw emotion. It is at home on a proscenium stage as well as a gritty basement space. Tere describes this inclusive quality as his “research honoring the multi-dimensional meaning platform of dance”. I think of it like hearing chatter in a crowd, with clear and surprising conversations occasionally piercing the ear. Tere transmits this messaging elegantly in his own words but his dances and his chosen dancers recite the real poetry.
His commitment to formal dance training is coupled with fierce and vigilant individuality. Difference is a tool in a Tere O’Connor dance. Each performer, regardless of background has to work rigorously and stay alert. The rhythms, the layering of phrases and gestures, the collections and dispersals in space, all team with the wonder and complexity of a makeshift family. It takes a village. The dance and the dancers transform again and again, sometimes seamlessly, sometimes cutting across ideas like a knife, or a dramatic scene shift in a Goddard film. This can be dizzying but it honors the code-switching and psychic space of queer existence. Baby’s (2006) exposing mix of vocal and motional activity gives way to the epic conversation around race, gender, age and (gasp) formalism in Bleed (2016). The closeted gay experience, exorcised in Cover Boy (2011) makes room for the New York premiere of the more breathy Long Run. There’s so much space to cover in this wizened artist’s work. Maybe it’s time for a retrospective? That’s probably too neat. Too obvious.
Rashaun Mitchell is an Assistant Arts Professor at NYU Tisch School of the Arts Dance Program. A celebrated performer and choreographer, he is the recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship, two Bessie awards, and is a licensed stager of the repertory of Merce Cunningham.