Artist Notes: Tere O’Connor

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Tere O’Connor. Photo: Natalie Fiol

Throughout my choreographic career I have been motivated by the question: “What can dance do?” Outside of mime, its inability to treat subject matter or story with any exactitude raised questions for me. Many viewers seem to crave subject matter to steady themselves in the free flowing waters of a choreographic sensibility. But working in dance and immersing myself first hand in its material for decades, I’ve discovered that traits such as inference, essence, quality, reference, complexity, layering and rhythm create another kind of meaning in dance more than imagery or stated themes.

Adopting this collection of traits as my poetic scaffolding, I long ago ceded any desire for the expression of specific ideas to the ambiguous contours of the choreographic mind. My dances are constellations of colliding ideas whose interaction propels the choreography. They imitate consciousness by placing language in a less prominent role, and setting the tangible and the absurd in close proximity, allowing the imagination to become the ocean upon which our certitudes float.

In the two works we will present, different degrees of abstraction are at play. I wish there was a better word than abstraction. I want a word that conveys the sense of contemplative space dance offers us where multiple, indeterminate elements mingle and interact, creating a constellation of ideas unbothered by cohesiveness. Making dances and coming to experience them offers us a moment to gather and connect with a different focus from the pragmatic, cogent one that rules most of our waking hours.

—Tere O’ Connor
Artistic Director, Tere O’Connor Dance


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Michael Ingle rests on Silas Reiner’s shoulder. Photo: Paula Court

Undersweet

In the contrast between the images of a dance and the invisible structures that reveal them over the duration of a work, we find one of the most functional metaphors dance offers. It is an articulation of a core paradox of human experience: the construction of a socially acceptable facade versus the full flowing and subterranean complexity of an internal life. In this work, I seek to amplify the particular fusion of façade and sexual desire in choreographic abstraction. We all hold an erotic layer at bay when behaving socially, yet it exerts a power on our actions. I have been driven by this consideration while working on this dance.

Undersweet was commissioned by LMCC and presented in progress as part of the River to River Festival 2014. It was developed during an LMCC artist residency in 2014 as part of Lower Manhattan Cultural Council’s Extended Life Dance Development program, made possible in part by The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation (lmcc.net).

The movement material for both of these works is created in close collaboration with the dancers. Their creative offerings are invaluable as are their wit, rigor, talent and generosity. I am so grateful to them.


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Eleanor Hulliahn. Photo: Julieta Cervantes

Transcendental Daughter

This work is a venture into the poetic workings of dance. Exhausted by the proclamations and personal dogma of politicians, pundits and artists in this present political and cultural moment, I return to dance to deliver myself to a different plane of living and thinking. The title of this work does not describe a character in the dance but is rather a name for dance itself. Although I almost certainly over-romanticize it, I hold the mother/daughter relationship in high regard. We could use this healing presence. A daughter can laugh with us, trick us, enchant us, love us, hide from us, show us a full range of feelings and elevate us, via her lightness, from the dogma below.

Transcendental Daughter has been commissioned by The Joyce Theater’s Stephen and Cathy Weinroth Fund for New Work. The work is also made possible by the New York State Council on the Arts with the support of Governor Andrew Cuomo and the New York State Legislature. The program is supported, in part, by public funds from the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs in partnership with the City Council. Additional funds were provided by the University of Illinois Research fund and the Harkness Foundation.


tereoconnor_salesblastvideoTere O’Connor Dance
Undersweet + Transcendental Daughter
November 3, 4 & 5, 2016 • 7:30 p.m. Buy tickets

 

Artist Statement: nora chipaumire

Artist Statement: nora chipaumire
Nora Chipaumire
nora chipaumire

When I discovered “concert dance” I hoped to use it to manifest the avant-garde. At the time, I was overwhelmed by the idea and expectation (perhaps self-inflicted) that an African artist should be responsible for Africa’s rich and complicated past, its ancient cultures and rituals, and also be embraced by audiences both at home and abroad. My work has since developed to acknowledge and affirm that an African body can be simultaneously avant-garde and a guardian of the ancient. The intersection of these modes of expression has helped me to create a dynamic and complex (physical) language. I am currently invested in language-building. My work is also expanding to include considerations from outside the performative form. Could the language of the body create economies? Could dance engage civic society?

Statement about portrait of myself as my father

Portrait: noun – 1. A verbal picture or description usually of a person; 2. A likeness of a person especially of the face, as a painting, drawing, photograph or dance.

Father: noun – a male parent who has raised a child or supplied the sperm through sexual intercourse or sperm bank.

God the father: noun – a title given to God in religions such as Christianity and Judaism (in part because he is viewed as having active interest in human affairs in the way a father would take interest in his children who are dependent on him).

My father, Webster Barnabas Chipaumire, was born in 1938 and died in 1980. I had no contact or connection with him or his family from the age of five. It has taken me almost 45 years to engage with the idea of a father and what his role in a family could be. In April 2014, I returned to my father’s village in search of a way to draw his portrait. I cannot say exactly what has spurred this curiosity, but suffice it to say that the research and trip have been challenging.

Perhaps this curiosity came from his absence. Perhaps this curiosity came from compassion for the black male. Is the black male a victim of history and culture? Could the black male African body be a way to comprehend traditions, colonialism, Christianity, liberation struggles, and the impact of these ideas on the African family? Is the sacrifice of the black male body/object necessary for civilization’s God, the modernity’s God, the global capital’s God? As Stravinsky/Nijinsky suggest in their monumental work The Rite of Spring, is the sacrifice of a human being limited to primitive societies? I believe that in Africa the sacrificial offering has been the black African male, and not the young female virgin. In portrait of myself as my father, I offer a new reading of the ritual of spring as the slaughter of African maleness to feed and regenerate the capital’s god.

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The boxing ring.

portrait… is less about my personal relationship (or the absence of it) with Webster Barnabas Chipaumire, than a portrait of a man who is nothing but a man of his time. I give him boxing gloves so that he can have a fighting chance. I have put him in a boxing ring to battle with himself, his shadow, his ancestors, the industrial gods and that merciless tyrant: progress. To be a black male may be challenging in the twenty-first century. To be a black, African father may be unattainable.

 


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nora chipaumire • portrait of myself as my father
October 20, 21 & 22, 2016 • 7:30 p.m. Buy tickets

Curator’s Notes: nora chipaumire’s ‘portrait’

Curator’s Notes: nora chipaumire’s ‘portrait’

nora chipaumire’s opening web page states, simply, “Born in Mutare, Zimbabwe and based in New York City, nora chipaumire challenges and embraces stereotypes of Africa and the black performing body.”

Next week we witness, in an unusual staging at the Dance Center, nora’s newest work, a portrait of myself as my father. In this work, chipaumire ferociously explores ideas of African masculinity as personified in her relationship with her estranged father. Through action involving play, combat, traditional and contemporary dance traditions, chipaumire and her fellow performers—Senegalese dancer Pape Ibrahima Ndiaye (also known as Kaolack) and Jamaican-born Shamar Watt—encounter and engage one another under harsh lights.nora-chipaumire-1-by-anna-lee-campbell-1620x1080

It is not a work for the faint-hearted or for those who want to keep their idea of dance and dancing in a pretty and lyrical frame. This work is confrontational, loaded and fierce to the eye, to the ear, to the heart. It reminds us that art does so many things in the world, including dare us to be exposed to the struggle that accompanies personal and cultural injustice, misrepresentation and stereotypical diminishments that rob individuals of dignity and true identity.

The title alone is provocative. Why is “father” crossed out? How does a woman engage with, or perhaps even recreate herself, as her (not?) father? What kind of relationship generates both visible and invisible tensions over race, gender and personal identity? What can we read into the exclusive use of lower case? These signals from the title invite us, the viewers, into an uncertain and off-kilter world.

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The costuming gives us more clues—boxing gloves, football pads, sacred West African gris-gris (talisman). So does the staging: a makeshift boxing ring. In this work chipaumire gives us many ways of reading the material. Whether you see it as real encounters between real people or as the imagistic, nightmarish struggle of one soul to be freed from the specter of a parent with whom she cannot ultimately connect, the work invites us to find new reserves of clear-eyed bravery in a context of struggle. In today’s world this is a potent invitation.

The way we have staged this work in the Dance Center theater is unusual—your seats are not assigned but rather are offered as general admission. Some seats in the theater are blocked off while seating on the stage beside the boxing ring are added. We encourage you to move around as the performance progresses. Get up, go to a different seat, stand and watch, sit somewhere new. The work invites you to examine it, from different angles and perspectives, and from altering points of view.

We are grateful to nora and her team for bringing this remarkable and challenging work to our space and our community. Courage.

– Bonnie Brooks
Director and Lead Curator, Dance Presenting Series


norac-play
nora chipaumire • portrait of myself as my father
October 20, 21 & 22, 2016 • 7:30 p.m. Buy tickets