by Jessi Smith
The excitement is palpable in and around The Ringling as the museum and its theatres prepare to welcome top performing artists from around the world to showcase their talents at the fifth annual Ringling International Arts Festival, kicking off this Thursday, October 10.
Choreographer, Tere O’Connor, is among those artists. A veteran of the dance industry for more than 30 years, O’Connor’s résumé includes dozens of productions with top contemporary dancers, a 2013 Doris Duke Artist Award, a 2009 United States Artists Rockefeller Fellowship, a 1993 Guggenheim Fellowship, and three New York Dance and Performance “Bessie” awards—to name a few.
In a few short days, Tere O’Connor Dance arrives in Sarasota to present the choreographer’s two latest works, poem and Sister, at this year’s Ringling International Arts Festival. In the frenetic days leading up to RIAF, O’Connor found a few moments in his busy schedule to explain his signature, self-described “abstract documentary” choreography style and shed some light on his latest productions.“What I mean by ‘abstract documentary’ style is that, in my work, I’m not trying to relay a pre-existing story. I am making a dance product out of the energy of being in my own mind, the experiences of the dancers, and what’s going on in the world at any point. It’s not a document that takes a picture of the moment, but a document that’s borne from the energy of the moment,” O’Connor explained.
He went on to compare that document to a constellation comprised of myriad ideas—of memories, language, metaphor, the emotions and experiences of the dancers and his own, and other incorporeal concepts that are interwoven together like stars to create the final product: A nebulous symphony of ideas in motion that he defines as “abstract documentary” dance.
When presented with the challenge of defining the influences that shaped his style, O’Connor draws comparison between the history of dance and the complex evolution of the spoken word.
“I use any kind of form I want to, and I don’t necessarily describe myself by one style. I use a lot of different kinds of styles, but much like our spoken language is derived from a lot of sources … there’s a kind of polyglot of dances in my work that creates a new language of its own,” O’Connor explained.
“My artistic process starts with an impulse. I start with a movement, and the movement has these messages. I try to grow from that and cultivate ideas that seem to be born from the experience of making it. poem, for example, started out with these structures that reminded me of stanzas in poems that are both clear, and at the same time, serve a purpose to deliver qualitative changes in the work. It goes in and out of moments that could feel narrative to audiences, but it isn’t a story in that sense. It’s about the idea of poetry,” O’Connor said.“I’ve been looking at ideas of how formalism and design can be kind of transcendent elements of dance. poem is about the idea of formal ideas in dance and also the idea of poetics… It explores how dance and poetry are reflected in each other,” he added.
O’Connor’s most recent production, Sister, opened less than a month ago, on September 11, at the University of Illinois where the choreographer serves on the faculty. The duet piece is danced by veteran dancers, Cynthia Oliver and David Thomson, both of whom are in their fifties.
“I work with all kinds of dancers. It’s unusual to have dancers of that age, but when you see those people move, you think they’re thirty. What’s interesting to me is that the amount of experience that lies in their bodies is very vast and very rich,” O’Connor said.
O’Connor went on to reveal that the pool of “very vast and very rich experience” that lies within both the dancers and the choreographer—their similarities and their differences—lies at the core of Sister. He described Oliver and Thomson, longtime colleagues with whom has shared friendly acquaintance over the years, as “people who I know, and at the same time, I don’t,” much as many may describe a sibling.
“I was looking at what’s common in our background, but also at what’s not. Sisters deals with the idea of knowing someone who is close to you, but learning new depths shaped by their different history, experiences, memories,” O’Connor explained.
Audiences still have a chance to snag the last remaining tickets to catch Tere O’Connor Dance performing poem and Sister at this year’s Ringling International Arts Festival, October 10-12. Get your tickets online or by calling the box office at (941) 360-7399.
You can also still enter to WIN tickets to this performance by sharing your thoughts with us on this Blog post in the comments section below! We’ll randomly select two respondents to each win a pair of tickets to the Friday, October 11 (9:00 PM) show.