Office Hours: Tere O'Connor and Patricia Beaman on "Long Run"
September 27, 2018: Patricia Beaman chats with Tere O'Connor about "Long Run."

Tere O’Connor is Artistic Director of Tere O’Connor Dance. He has created over 40 works for his company and toured these throughout the US, Europe, South America and Canada. The company’s performers and collaborators constitute a family of artists who are dedicated to expanding the potency of dance as a serious art form. For O’Connor, meaning is arrived at in collaboration with the audience and its endlessly diverse, referential world.

Patricia Beaman is an Artist-in-Residence at Wesleyan University and an Adjunct in Dance History at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts and its Open Arts division.

Transcript

Patricia Beaman: Again? Hi I’m Patricia Beaman and I’ll be interviewing choreographer Tere O’Conner today.

Tere O’Connor: And I am Tere O’Connor! Hello! 

PB: So Tere let’s talk about your piece, Long Run which was made in 2017 and premiered at Bard and now it’s going to be at Skirball! 

TO: Yes, this is our New York premiere. 

PB: So I viewed the piece… eight dancers, no set, and you did the score this time.

TO: I did the score, yeah yeah. 

PB: So I- I’m always fascinated, I’ve seen many of your pieces where you’ve done the score. You’ve also worked with James Baker (Jim Baker)… I’d like to ask you- just to jump into the piece.. Why were you the score maker this time? 

TO: Okay I think just a- just a little history before that, which is important- is that one of the first- when I first started making choreography as a very young person who didn’t know anything about anything… I was enwrapped about dance… at the same time I was already critical pretty quickly. And I felt that making a work to a piece of music- I just could not figure out why anyone would make a painting to a book! Or a book to a movie! I just- just- I felt like I wanted to make choreography the protagonists of my work and not being a secondary place of like “I think it’s a decorative art to make a dance to music!” It’s a different art from what I’m doing. I’m unearthing something and I’m also making music, but the music that I’m making by doing this has a kind of arc. It could be music that is metered and refers to the history of metered music and dance or it could be music that refers to film scores or to the oneiric realm or to many other things. And I shift in and out of those things and I know it’s kind of a cliche thing to say, but in a layered way I do really think that choreography is a multivalent system that really affords layers very well and I try to work with them very deeply… The reason I wanted to do the music this time was to kind of be very exacting about the referential realm because it’s a referential thing to go from the different styles that I use all the time, and that James and I have used over time. They have reference in them. And his- we come to an agreement on what that’s going to be together when he makes the music and I just wanted to take one journey by myself and see what that’s like because when we make the work we make the pieces completely finished in silence and then the music comes in… 

PB: That’s what I want! 

TO: So I am already making this recipe of you know- dance this dance to be or not, or these things- it’s going through these different modalities and that’s a big part of the choreography- means of shifting kind of forms of presentation- that’s kind of the kinetic realm for me. Moving from one to the other, the movement is almost like a kind of, you know, Trojan horse that brings this other kind of kinetics in and lower layers of things for me and that is finalized in the music… 

PB: I spoke with Silas Reiner…

TO: Yeah one of the dancers! He’s been dancing with me for five years.

PB: And he was talking about- he worked with you for two weeks?

TO: Yeah, we worked by ourselves for two weeks.

PB: And he was describing that when you… the rhythm is at the bottom of everything in his opinion and that when you make a phrase it can be linear, but then you take it apart and then you insert something else… but for him one of the challenging and really enthralling things for him is that the syntax of something will stay the same, but that the rhythmic accents change.

TO: Yeah that was the sort of what this whole piece is kind of based on- one of the layers is that I made this piece with Silas- I mean this phrase with Silas, and one of the things that I’m working with, not trying to prove or even make a statement about, but I want to really get into the room with this idea that the images in a dance are secondary to the kind of subterranean temporal effect that’s going on. And what if I take that, and instead of like theme and variation, I used the- the underneath musical grammar and reapply it? So we took it in different places and put completely different music on it. So, this underpinnings of that thing are everywhere, but they don’t just stay like that. They mutate, they grow, and all these kinds of things- that their rhythm… For me, rhythm is pretty much the closest you’re gonna get to voice in dance because it has- it can replicate the kind of lowest requirements of language, which are inflection and expression somehow, but without the common denotative elements that bring us together. So there’s this other place I’m looking at. And I’m not saying like, you know, “dance speaks better than language” at all. I love language, but I find language resituated in dance and doing something else and I’m trying to kind of extract that and bring that to the fore of choreography as well. 

PB: Well, I think one of the things I so appreciate about your work is- is that when I do go, I imbibe it rather than try to interpret it. 

TO: Thank you.

PB: Okay and I think that were I a critic- your work would be so hard to describe. And I think some of the things that I’ve read, you know past interviews with you, is that you don’t necessarily want it described. 

TO: Yeah, I mean I’ve had a contentious relationship with critics because a lot of them are not even trained to do this! Now there’s a lot, I think, because of performance studies, I’m not just blowing smoke up the hallways… but, you know, performance studies has brought in critical thinking, even to universities across the land. Whether people take it on or not- it’s a new smell in dance department. And for me, it’s just I never- and this is the kind of queering, I think. I never was looking at the image of a dance. I remember going to see Swan Lake when I was really young. I went to Purchase and Chuck Dembois was our whatever you call it… Dean? for a while and we had access to go watch and sit in that back booth. And I went all the time I was like “what?!” you know? Where I grew up I didn’t have this- and I was amazed by it! But then I was like these people are literally coming here to watch a story about a swan and I’m like ??? And then, I started to see what else was going on- how the kind of the- the imagery is almost an insult or a subterfuge to say like, “Don’t look at the philosophy that’s being brought here somehow…” and I was just so- I was so- I was the ice! I mean I didn’t know that- I know that in retrospect. Getting in the room and working, you know and I look at my practice as my writing room and my dances are the book. I’m literally doing the research inside the form as much as I can. So I got in there and that kept showing up like there is nothing about working with dance that says, “Use me to tell a story!” It’s like no- there’s no sense of “about” that dance can reach that is any interesting than any book I’ve read about the same subject. But because it has such kind of ambiguous contours, dance- it is very unnerving for humans and they want there to be a kind of anchor of some sort and that’s, I think, where story comes into it over and over and over. Even now like artists are conceptually like, “I have this concept and then here it is in a dance!” I’m like, “Well I heard it in the concept already… Is the dance a translation of something or is it its own kind of thing?”

 PB: But- but really you and I thank you for that because you know I look at Rothko, you know a painting by Rothko, and I don’t look for meaning… 

TO: Well if you’re- if you’re past modernism in any way that’s not what’s going on, you know? Although, I think it is! I think there’s a lot of people who still look at abstraction as a kind of obfuscation of a story that’s trying to ring out as opposed to, you know a portal to transcendence of some sort or a suggestion that we could go somewhere else, you know, in consciousness is fuller than just the nomenclature. 

PB: A little bit about form, alright? Because as as much as I try not to interpret things- I can’t help it and I just have to out myself. Like I teach dance history! I’ve seen images in your work and told you about them and they like I see — some times in a line and you know, you’ve laughed before, not taking me to task on it or anything… but the trios in your work are really compelling to me! And you know, maybe there’s something about the golden mean but in Long Run, you have a beautiful number- one person who is facing downstage four o’clock, two are eight o’clock and then I’m thinking about… and then there’s a part that they come downstage and three women-

TO: I don’t know which one you’re talking about at this point… 

PB: But it’s kind of like the witches from Macbeth like- 

TO: Oh that happened that’s happened before and you know- 

PB: -it’s sort of like three demonic, misbehaving… Three Graces from Botticelli pops up, but the trio that I just love is from a poem where the men or the three men are on their back and they do the leg blossoms! It’s everything between June Taylor and the Kaleidoscope. So I always get, you know, these very strong images that are so poetic in your work for me, the Long Run I mean I think the arc of your work has changed over the years… 

TO: Yeah, lots! 

PB: And I want to talk about that with you, and why that is, and where? But I did want to say that an overarching theme that always is in your work for me is the relationship between people.

TO: Oh sure.

PB: And after all, you have bodies on stage… but you know this idea of people, you know coming together- there’s a cause and effect. Something happens, it ripples through. Something fractures, something else happens, and then all of a sudden come back to it and then it will change again! And you know, it reminds me of what you said about when you read a book and new characters are introduced. And you start to wonder what’s going to happen to the old characters. I had some moments of that in Long Run. 

TO: Yeah I mean I think one of the things that’s going on is that- I just want to answer a couple things you’re saying just about in terms of history and how it’s a reference in there and I’m really- I’m not- I’m gonna say the word post or anything- but post-modernism for me… I get it? But I never wanted it to be called that because it’s just for me like- like English? It’s a polyglot language. And when you’re talking I say, “Hey you know that GH has a Germanic background?” We’re not pointing out all the parts! It’s just there now and that’s the way I look at dance or moving like moving… Movement and dancing reside together without any question for me and I’m not in a critique or place of appropriation or pastiche! It’s not postmodern for me. It’s- I live now and all that’s happened. And I’ve studied all that and sometimes I do, through the layers, I want to bring something that someone can hold on to before the ocean takes them under again, which to me brings language into the realm of consciousness where language is not the president. So shards of things come up in your mind and then you think about an essence and you feel some pain and so the way that language resides inside of consciousness or in my estimation of that or it’s seen through dance is what I’m getting at. So it does go in and out of reference. But none of them is primary for me. It’s the fact that everything has multiple meanings. So we get to the leg- the blossom legs and I would say it does look like that, so we have to look at it and I can arrange it and really work at so it can look like 40 things, and be porous somehow and not just that. So that’s how we shake things a lot. When something comes up, it’s super referential. Sometimes I’ll leave it there because it does make people kind of move forward and I go again to the kinetics of the experience of watching it- in and out of moments of no ability of some sort or imagined? Which is really what you’re projecting onto the whole world all the time. You know, you go into a room of people and make a whole bunch of choices that you don’t even know, and then you act from them. So I’m looking at that. I’m just trying to look at that- the work. And I don’t have an arrival point with that yet, but that’s- what the kind of journey of my- my work has been partially in dance has been that.

PB: Can I talk about your process- ask you about your process of how- how you make a phrase? And also your editing? Because I know that for some dances you decided to actually not edit?

TO: Well I started that way but I didn’t- I mean the editing for me is the kind of- the biggest drama of the work is the choreographer who maybe setting themselves into a kind of contentious relationship with time passing and trying to shape it somehow. And sometimes the more- I like I look at the Rosetta Stone- as if it were like kind of like religious art. It’s so formal. And it’s coming from a profound repression somehow. And something is being born out of it that I don’t know if that’s true or not, but I see that over and over and over again. But something for me about the effort to say like, “I’m gonna have a beginning and end!” and try to make time like somersault and be origami in front of you because somehow that is difficult- going there is difficult. And like the kind of more kind of surgical editing I’ve worked on has been an expression of that. I think that choreographer, just at the center of what’s going on, is a kind of neuroses and it’s reflected in everyone. It’s kind of like mortality- it’s like that’s mortality here, you know? And I mean that’s not literal, but that’s what- if I look for meaning in dance. or kind of meaning production in dance. that’s one of the basic things that I think is going on. And so I’ve chosen to move into this realm of artifice and kind of turn the volume up on that fact via that kind of modality- something that’s completely false attempting to get to reality somehow…

PB: Well it feels very real.

TO: Yeah I think it’s very visceral what I do.

PB: It evokes all kinds of feelings, I mean, if we’re- In Long Run, I got feelings of alienation… there’s- there’s that point where everybody is prostate on the floor, except for two people and there’s that duet and it’s as if they’re in some apocalyptic landscape of alienation and it’s very despairing, you know? And then it changes into something else, but always for me, how people come together and then go apart… And also your way of arranging bodies in tight ways? You have a quintet- there are three people sort of in a triangle and two facing down stage there, yeah. They’re on a little bit different facing, so it’s almost like the fractals coming off? Or Fibonacci numbers, kind of? But they’re all doing the same thing! But somehow it’s like looking at a diamond in all the facets… so you know, I really- I so appreciate your craft and what you do obviously, I know that’s a loaded word…

TO: No that’s fine, I mean I’m not- I know what you’re not supposed to craft… I’m totally into crafted! I think designing is a very spiritual kind of undertaking or can be… I think one of the things that that’s coming from is that another- again when I was really young, one of the things that I just started to kind of know or see, or maybe project was that making these dances was like a hallucination of architecture. 

PB: Yes okay!

TO: Like everything you do suggests place, size, dimension, monolith, domesticity… So there’s this language of change-ability from place to place that really starts to be more important than any kind of image you could put out there that says, “It’s a cat! Now it’s a toaster! Now it’s a person!” you know? Like that, whatever… There’s some other thing going on and it has a democracy to it, because you could say like, “I’m gonna suggest corner and each person is gonna paint what corner that is!”, you know? Or the same way you turn a corner and you see a light and have a memory of being somewhere in this… Massachusetts- that kind of thing. I’m trying to really corral that concept into usage in my work somehow, I mean whether or not that’s a literal thing. But I am shaping constantly the size of what you’re looking at and facing that thing, something… here’s something that’s an architecture that’s designed by human… here’s something that’s designed by nature… here’s something between them… here’s something that… you know, It’s coming from Androids, another place, or digital kind of- kind of machinations that bring these things about and they’re always changing, and again that’s one of the subterranean messages that I think are much more important than the imagery in the work. And they’re trying to learn how to arrange those has been kind of what I’ve been committed to a lot. 

PB: We can go back to Long Run, but I think this is a good jumping- jumping back point because one of the things that really was kind of a hallmark of your earlier work was, and you had such a tight group of people for a long time, I mean, your dancers are extraordinary now too, but people are very loyal to you…

TO: Yeah, definitely.

PB: I mean you’ve had… 

TO: The first people that were my company were thirteen years… Nancy and and Kristen and Sarah and I love them!

PB: But you’ve had several chapters, but vocalizing and speaking is such a big part. When do you decide if the voice is going to come into a piece? Does it just kind of happen in something? In the studio? And it’s just fucking funny and you keep it? Because there is a lot of that sort of sardonic wit that comes out. 

TO: Yeah, yeah. I think mostly it was that I had- when I started out I was making these kind of abstract kind of still theatrical works with the potentiality to kind of swarm and turn into vignettes and go in and out of that. And I was asking that question. I was going to be what kind of like looking at through a queer lens- I don’t know if it was called that then, but I was saying like I mostly see what’s underneath. I mostly see secreted messages. I was thinking- what if I just went to… and you know always through life people talk about political art. I was like… I’m not sure about that really… and so I would think like why would you make a dance and when you could put a banner up that says what you want to say? Like fuck Trump! or something… and so I was just trying to figure that out for myself. So I did, “Hi Everybody!” I did like four dances that moved into like the kind of treatment of injustices at the front of the work. And I mean “Hi Everybody!” had like 23 injustices that I wrote into the work. But once it came out and was made, I then applied choreographic techniques to it to kind of like collage it, cut it apart,  and bring it into another kind of systemic look that was no longer language, but it went from language out. And then there’s other things that really refer again totally pop culture and should like you know all kinds of different things- we used to have a section called “Fakespeare” and you know, in and out of these places- definitely of humor. And yeah so I wanted to- I wanted to look at that for a while. And I really wish there was another word than abstraction- that is such a loaded word. But whatever it is that I’m doing with dance, I- I wanted to test it and I did for- I think about “Frozen Mommy”, “Hi Everybody!”, “Mother”, and “Baby” to a certain degree. And then I kind of left that because I had looked at it- but it’s results are ghosted in the work I’m doing now definitely. It’s still resonating through somehow. So yes, that’s what I was looking at and still, I’m just kind of I’m really in a place of like, I don’t want any set, I don’t want anything… its just- I really want to keep looking at dance even as everyone else has abrogated movement inside their work… I don’t- I can’t- artistic movements are something I don’t understand. I didn’t  become an artist to join a group of people. Like I did it to individuate! I know that’s kind of old-fashioned, but that- when a group of people does something, I really run from it. Or I just have to like really really really scrutinize it because it’s like why would you? Like it’s like mon- you know like religion or monogamy all these monos that people join in and standardize their behavior… Dance is at odds with that at a center in my in my belief system. So I can’t- yeah so I use it in those looking in those methodologies.

PB: Well that’s something that’s remained constant because you never dance really with anybody.

TO: No, I need I had- I had a beautiful amazing boyfriend when I started out who- he was from Italy and we both- Enzo was his name, yeah. We both were like wanted to make work… from the time I started dancing at Purchase, I knew I wanted to make work. I didn’t for five years, but I knew I didn’t want to dance with anyone. And particularly in those days, it was the eighties, there was people that danced with Trisha or Merce. And all the work looked like that. And I thought something else was coming out of my body, I didn’t want to get referential- I mean I loved all that stuff like I wasn’t against it… but I wanted to kind of locate a voice that was just kind of coming out of me. And for me it was absolutely from a profoundly closeted experience that I was just- this other thing had been creating itself as I played anotherpart for the first 20 years of my life. Something else had been formulated and I’m happy about it, ultimately… it gave me a whole different kind of point of view on things. But yeah so I didn’t dance with anyone. I didn’t want to have anyone’s thing on my body. And I also was really felt far from, I mean I’m totally into music, but music before, dancing to music is like there’s the structure- I don’t want to make that! I don’t want to do that- that seemed to be like the prevailing, partially, and in certain you know arenas of work that’s what’s going on- so I just had to look at many things.

PB: And then the exaltation of the body… that was something…

TO: Well, yeah I mean quickly came up with- I think the thing that’s been very important in my- there’s two words that are really important to me- problematizing- as opposed to people who you know, find their heroism as not like artists by cutting off all of history… that seems odd to me. And I feel like ballet, which is a hideous form to certain degrees… and beautiful, I’m dragging it up a hill with on a rope with rocks attached in my work. It has a range of things that it can be. it’s not only “man those fucking white people” you know? I mean it is that, it is that very much. But I’m trying to like again bring it into multiplication- not reduction. Everything- being gay, being overweight, dealing with my weight…all of these things- they all find a kind of location in my work. Not a kind of negation. That’s something that was also very hard for me… when Judson was around I was like, “Why? Why would I say no to all the amazing films I’m seeing?” And there can be someone whose virtuosic right next to someone who’s doing like a Brisson treatment of acting and that’s really interesting to have that contrast. I really didn’t understand the no and I thought it was very self congratulatory.

PB: You know later on Yvonne said no to spectator…

TO: And I know I love those people! They were very important! But when I was at that age, I was like “No! no! no! No Manifesto!” Who do we think we are? I don’t need a manifest! I’m just working, you know. So that kind of stuff was difficult for me and I remember telling my boyfriend that- he lived in Rome and we lived in Rome- I told him at one point, I said, I don’t think that’s- Judson’s so big for me… It was like- he looked at me, like… he said, “I mean I think it’s very important! But all art forms go through that rejection…

PB: Well what you came up with was even more brilliant.

TO: Well whatever…

PB: The Hudson movement! 

TO: The Hudson movement! 

PB: The Hudson movement…

TO: I mean Cunningham left a message I think is very interesting of just complete openness. No even taste. You know, the way that he would have people costume his works… you’d have some- I don’t know if you know this Australian kind of word called dag? Dag is like a person in high school who’s like doesn’t have the right clothes, but they’re still cool enough to hang out, but they’re like a dag. But he had like a dag do his costumes and just not worry about it! He’s like, “here’s the work…” It was the first audience move- having collaborators, like just put on it what you will. And it’s still the same- if you have a baby on the thing, you throw one blanket on it and another one, it’s gonna still do the same movement you know? And he just proposes this complete, open like flight into the next moment that wasn’t about self-congratulatory models or even authorship. It was more about you know this other thing… I could go on for hours…

PB: Well, can we just jump to Silas for a second?

TO: Sure. 

PB: On that segway, because he came out of two years with the Goodbye Tour… and then, when it ended on New Years Eve… right? You called January 2nd?

TO: There with the net- like the dog catcher…

PB: So you know, he obviously had drunk the Cunningham…

TO: Yeah 

PB: elixir and so well and beautifully! So is it when you work with him… and again all your dancers are extraordinary… is there something about that Cunningham logic that makes it really easy to work with him and changing those rhythms or the kind of…? 

TO: That, sure… but I think the thing about any of the dancers I work with, and Silas included, is the dancers’ kind of ownership of their role. I don’t work with people- and I’ve been so lucky- that are in that parental relationship with choreographers, which is pretty anachronistic, but it’s a part of the psychology, and I can see it a mile away. So people who are like, “We’re doing this same thing… I’m in a different place with you…” I am very clear to say like, “People… I am looking for something…” I don’t come in here like a master who’s going to make you understand and make it. I am coming in here looking for it. You’re a big part of that. I’m super detailed and complicated. Can you get into a journey like that? Because it’s gonna be like you know, it’s gonna be like that/ And Hillary Clark reinvented what they call the funeral? You know, when I would cut off 40 minutes of movement, she’d be like “Just a minute…” And it would always be started with ting! Like a teardrop… Then you go up into the corner, they do a mime of digging graves! Its very funny! Cuz I do cut a lot of material… I really like almost in the homeopathic way, I try to take elements that I see in dance like ongoing this forward movement and use those as editing tools.  So the idea of saving material is kind of more like sculpture or something. Like you’re trying to make an object out of it? And I feel like if you just kind of keep climbing forward, that stuff will find its presence in another way in what you’ve been making, but I don’t let like to hold on to movement. So they have to go through a lot of creating really- in really detailed things and then that gets cut off and falls into the ocean, you know?

PB: So, every day you rehearse four hours a day, five hours a week…

TO: Five days a week… yeah it’s pretty intense…I mean that’s the thing is like… this is what I want to do on earth… are you guys into it? So people that are there, are not being like what time does this end? No! It’s not that kind of people! They’re they’re artists! So that’s what I think what facilitates a lot of it. But I’m totally blessed with amazing people and you know the atmosphere is- I just I think if something like Mike Leigh- I’m not comparing with something anyway to Mike Leigh, but like a director who just has a group of people. Sometimes the woman who was the cashier in the last film is the lead the next one… but they’re all on board you know for the trip for the kind of aesthetic…

PB: Oh, I think it’s a great analogy!

TO: Yeah, no it feels it feels like like that always helped me come to think of it think of it that way… Because I don’t I don’t necessarily love having strangers in the work. Just because I don’t know- and I don’t love doing commissioned works… because you know people don’t know the- they’re coming from a different place. It just takes a really long time to connect- a lot of them are like eye roll- there’s a lot of eye rollage and furrowed brow in my life… in other places that’s how it is but… 

PB: So how- do you plan to do with your schedule, because your in Champagne-Urbana teaching half the year, is it sort of your want to do a new piece every fall? Is that what- how do you get going…

TO: Can you put an overlay of eyes spinning? 

PB: I know you don’t do one every fall… 

TO: No I do!

PB: You do! Alright so you do… 

TO: I have been, I’m going to not do that coming up. Right now, next year I’m gonna do a project… I don’t know if I’m allowed to say where cause I know where, but i don’t wanna say where… somewhere in New York City! And it’s gonna be like a research project for a piece that I will then do the year after. Because one of the things I’m looking at right now, is the kind of cultural weather that I’m in? And I’m like wow! This is super different from what I came up in. And there’s a lot of you know- basically race and gender are just knocking at the door and cannot be left out, however, I don’t feel like I can generate the work about that. People have to be invited in. So I’m thinking about bringing some people in to have a discussion / rehearsal / end up in a piece. So I’m also- I’m going to kind of overlay a kind of really formal work of with — music. It’ll keep churning in and out of that somehow… that’s what I’m starting with the idea. But somehow… I just want to take some… I’m at a place where I’m like, you know, it is an anomaly to some degree to work the way that I work. And with, you know, like what could be called formalism? I would call them other things… but that’s what its seen as. And inside of the culture right now, if things are resonating in another way with me, I teach with I work with grad students a lot, you know, and they’re doing they just have really interesting stuff that’s going on, and some of it is at odds with what my experience has been. So I just feel like I want to open up and look at different ways. So I’ve been blessed- I have an amazing life in terms of working, because my time off- thank you University of Illinois! It’s basically a research moment. It’s shaped on like what a scientist would have in a Tier One research university and it’s amazing! So I’m gonna use it for research this time…

PB: Good. 

TO: And then come back, I mean I’ll make peace. I’ve made more than 45 pieces, you know. It’s like, “Okay, what’s next?” You go to the room, you’re like, “How about let’s do something about parsley! Have we touched on herbs? Like holy shit!” So I want to just like take have a listening kind of playing around…

PB: That’s what’s great about teaching- you always get new ideas coming in.

TO: Yeah,well that- and it always has been- I’ve always been- I’ve been teaching since I was really young and the kind of… I don’t know. Up in Rochester, we’re used to “getting our face cracked”- where someone says something to you that just like completely undoes your trip? “Face crackage”- its called. And I get my face cracked all the time because people will just say something to me like, you know… raise their hand and say something… “You’re like trying to disintegrate everything I’ve built in my life?!” And I’m open to it! I like it! I like- you have to come to terms with this and somehow in my work, I think there’s a lot of conflict. And it doesn’t- I’m not looking for it to be resolved… I’m looking at the kind of the kind of music of the relativity of this constellation of different things. That’s what I’m looking at. Not a resolution for that, but how do they kind of ricochet against each other? And what kind of like psychic sound comes out of that, somehow…?

PB: All the same, the political climate right now… just wondering because in some of the Skirball promo info, it says that the dancers at the end are trying to find calm… And I wonder how much of that- sort of like… you also said that this your work is an abstraction documenting the time you’re living in now, so… 

TO: But it’s not making pictures of that… 

PB: No, but it’s feeling right? 

TO: Definitely! Yeah, yeah oh yeah, it’s definitely reacting to- it reacts to the moment like at- from dynamic places, you know? Definitely not in any explanatory modalities, but from definitely- I’m taking in- I mean there’s- there’s so much contrast of elements in this piece that is coming from that kind of like.. just having your head kind of rearranged by disbelief of what’s going on. But not only- I mean, I do believe that you absorb these things, and the dancers’ bodies absorb them, so it’s a mixture of like what the dancers are going through… I try to really be- I mean- I try to really include who’s in the room in the work. That’s a big part of… (I’m) creating a little country every time. A little culture every time. And the kind of like shaking of the earth- what’s going on politically is definitely hugely important, but if I were to want to make a statement about that, I would get on the news and try to say something about it. I don’t look at my work as a kind of place for proclamation… 

PB: But this self-soothingness is I think, something that I’m doing a lot these days.. and the beautiful sort of undulation of the bodies at the end and also the lighting… it’s almost like the Northern Lights and it’s very exquisite,

TO: Spoiler alert! No… it’s not that literal…

PB: But.. there is that- that feeling that…we won’t talk about the ending too much… but can we go back to a little bit about, you know, the fact that you are- your queerness, you’re gay… and you talked about how hard that was… and you know, I have a friend that just said, “Every day I wake up…”, this was back in the 80s, “…and I put my feet on the floor and I wished I weren’t gay!” 

TO: Oh absolutely! I grew up in a very small rural kind of place… 

PB: And like you say it’s gotten so much easier… 

TO: Definitely!

PB: Doors have opened… and I wanted to- to just… the Marxist critic, Walter Benjamin, he wrote that, “There’s no document of civilization which is not at the same time a document of barbarism.” 

TO: Yeah 

PB: And I just am looking at Cover Boy… What year was Cover Boy

TO: 2009…

PB: And then Undersweet… and I’m sort of…  Undersweet is very- it’s very sexy, it’s sensual, you know? The eroticism is so easily accessed… and Cover Boy had so many violent images. I remember the throat, you know? I was front and center in that concert and it just- it was terrifying! So I’m wondering… is that sort of like a side/side b or… not that one is less than more, but… 

TO: No, I think there are some points where I just willfully move towards content. And that I want to like just test it- what it does if I bring you know 13 percent content into the work?

PB: That’s Undersweet

TO: Both of them! They’re both about gayness through a queer lens… somehow… but the queerness moves into otherness and a lot of alternative kind of shapings and patterning that are just as much about a kind of different stance than the representation of the gayness is… somehow… So those two things kind of mix together. And you know in a time that’s really- I mean, I made those works in a time that they can no longer be about protest, you know, in the kind of places where I show my work. It’s obviously a limited group of people that are pretty much enlightened, you know? There’s not a lot of anti-gay people in the theaters we show work in. So it’s not necessarily for that. It’s just about allowing these kind of other views of love to just kind of be present for a minute because I think there’s something really amazing that the gay world can offer people about a much kind of selfless more open love. And I kind of- some of its tenets are also reside inside of my kind of structuring capabilities somehow… that there’s not just one place you know? There’s many- tangent for example, coming to something and moving somewhere else… it’s really something valuable to have… 

PB: I was curious also it was the first time I’ve ever heard you use well you used Lully’s Atys, right? 

TO: Yeah…

PB: Louis IVX’s favorite opera! 

TO: Oh that’s right of course! Yeah yeah you were — 

PB: I danced in it!

TO: But then they did another one that was incredible at BAM! Did you see that one? 

PB: Yeah!

TO: Oh my God! That was the best one- no it’s my favorite music ever! 

PB: That opera has to be done,

TO: It was shocking… 

PB: But yeah! You used Lully… 

TO: Yeah, definitely. I was really like… 

PB: Who actually preferred the company of men… 

TO: I would say so- Luh-LEE! No definitely. Well that music has I- that’s what I find in it. Like it was wearing the kind of mechanistic kind of compositional tools at the time, but it’s essence is really flying in another place, you know? It’s very transcendent that music, for me. I love it especially the somnolence- the kind of sleep… 

PB: Oh the sleep… 

TO: It’s incredible! Yeah, so I was gonna say that’s the only time I’ve ever used- very few times have I ever referred to music, but I really wanted to pull that forward you know? 

PB: I thought it worked incredibly well! Of course you didn’t put it on the beat…

TO: Yeah you know it’s flying by on clouds…

PB: Yeah yeah yeah, chariot deus ex machina… 

TO: It’s nice! I mean, I’m thinking about- I’m thinking about ultimately- I might get to a place where I go to music and use a score in my life, you know? All these kind of- any kind of adamancy- and I see it in others. I had to recommend- so anytime you have like an adamancy about your work… you usually should question it. Like arriving in a certitude… it’s what art should kind of undo. So when I arrived to that myself, I’m like, “Yeah don’t be so hard about that!” Because who knows? Like Trisha Brown ended up doing operas! 

PB: Yes! 

TO: And they were pretty amazing! She loved that experience… so I tried to- when I get these- these statements I’m like, “Yeah.. no no 21 year old Tere! Let’s look at it in a different way!” Who knows what’ll happen? I don’t know…

PB: Well… you know what? That’s why you’ll never get stuck!

TO: I did once… I did- I did- I did a commission for this company… Carte Blanche in Bergen, Norway. And I- and I really studied the score and it was really snowy. And you’d go up the funicular to the top of the mountain and there’d be stone and you’d clear a place away- kind of like Motteler might have! And read the score and poured over the score. It was a pretty amazing piece- (under breath) it was not that great, but it was interesting to do that… 

PB: So you’re you’re a trained musician? 

TO: I know how to read music. I’m not a trained- I can’t play, but I know how to read music/ I mean- I do play on some- I play the piano on this piece. 

PB: Oh yes, you do! Is that you singing too? 

TO: No it’s not me singing. 

PB: I wanted to ask you about family… 

TO: Family? 

PB: Family…you come from a big family? 

TO: I do! 

PB: A lot of your titles have women’s names…

TO: Very much so…

PB: Like Greta in the Ditch… 

TO: Mother, Sister… 

PB:Frozen Mommy, Mother, Sister, Baby

TO: I do think that’s a huge thing- I think that’s like a kind of- some kind of palace that things- everything comes from those… I mean definitely the “Mother” and “Baby”- I did a piece called “Boy Boy Giant Baby”, that was in 1985, that kind of was generated from a dream I had when I was in high school that completely changed me where I somehow birthed a baby from my body… in the dream… you know? It wasn’t- it wasn’t graphic or anything, but… And then I had this baby and I woke up and I was really depressed for like four days and I couldn’t express it to my mother or anything and I was like, “This is the end of the world for me!” Because I- I don’t- I can’t- there wasn’t enough language about gender nonconformity. I think there was something like that going on for me, but something about the inability to have a baby made me feel like terrible. Like I’m not worth anything- or something like that went on. And I kind of- like the mother thing, the presence of mother and how it- what it does on Earth was a portal for me into a lot of my work. I, again, I don’t remain there. I don’t remain there or it doesn’t move into these explanatory places, except Mother did. I don’t know if you saw Mother the piece that was about- where they imitated their own mothers? 

PB: Yeah.

TO: But in general, there’s just this kind of like pillars of starting points like, you know, through which I weave most of my thinking to then exit it and move into the dance kind of thinking… Yeah they are repeated all the time…

PB: What does your mother think of your dancing? 

TO: Oh! She’s passed away, but it was very much like over the head… but she was very supportive… My father never saw it cause he was you know one of those fathers… stone fathers… But my mother came and you know, usually I had to come to terms with her outfit because she’d be like, you know, “Well what should I wear? Something casual or…?” and I’m like, “What are the options?” She’d come looking like- with like a Peter Pan thing with a velvet cameo over it and like, “Is that cash… because the jeans are coming below your tits…?” Anyway, she was supportive- she was supportive after a while… 

PB: She ever do costumes for your piece?

TO: No! I should have her do them actually… Have you seen the last Gucci- the Gucci line, have you seen Gucci?

PB: No darling… 

TO: It’s amazing you should look at it those… 18 19 Gucci is something shocking. Its beautiful- its really beautiful and crazy really crazy… I show my students, sometimes, fashion runway because it’s a really interesting direct relationship… like what do you think this person thinks is making this into a collection? It’s like a dance! It just comes at you and you’re like, “Is it a color? Is it a shape? Is it thought? Is it references?” And it’s really an interesting- especially with some of the more kind of like outer reaching people. To look- it’s beautiful- the thinking behind- I mean I have problems really with the luxury of fashion and stuff… but there’s something in it that tells me a lot. I look at it all the time… 

PB: Well, that’s creativity!

TO: Yeah… yeah… well yeah. Some of these people like the way that they- the way that they… 

PB:… on a conveyor belt 

TO: Yeah! Or I remember Matthew Barney’s show it at the Guggenheim and all these secondary products that came out of the thinking… I was like, “That’s so interesting to me…” like if you turn the Guggenheim and it spun, even more products would fly out of it. And the same thing with the conveyor belt and this kind of like, “Oh is it Brown? Oh no it’s rectangles! Now circles!” This kind of additive quality that doesn’t accumulate like narrative does… it’s doing something else and it’s just a really good place to kind of look at…

PB: So, let’s see… Brian McDivitt… 

TO: Brian McDivitt… 

PB: James Baker…

TO: Went to school with both of them… they worked with me for years… and then Brian just became- he was very big on Broadway. He’s won five Tony’s and he’s still my best friend, but he couldn’t always work anymore because he would have these big, lighting things… and we worked with Michael O’Connor, who was his assistant, who I have worked with for ten years now, since Brian has not been around. He’s- you know- just as great, you know…

PB: And the — when you come together, do you always have a piece done or do they come in…? 

TO: With Jimmy it’s usually that I’m usually- I’m pretty much done almost completely finished… And then he create- we would talk about like, what kind of elements might be in there… Then he goes and makes a lot of material and then I get together with him for like two weeks and we kind of bring it together and we create like parallel lives for the dance and the music, like when will they be kind of like amiable? And when will it be apart? What kind of effect does that relationship have on the viewer? WhEN is it referring to dancing? To music? When is it referring to something else? And it’s- it’s late nights… and he is very exacting… I mean he’s an impressionist for the New York City Ballet. He is a conductor for Talia ,which is a kind of cutting edge new music ensemble. He also conducts for like, original Baroque. He’s got like a huge mind! So you know when we get together, he can make anything- anything happen. And we’ll work together again, definitely. But yeah, I mean, again, I’ve been blessed with this group of people around me who are just on board for the vibe of it and it’s been, you know, very fulfilling… 

PB: Well I think they’re blessed by you too!

TO: Yeah I think it’s shared… 

PB: It’s shared love. 

TO: Shared love.