Go Deeper

Interpretation is Fluid: Interview with choreographer Tere O’Connor

Posted March 21st, 2014

“I use moving as a method to ruminate and allow thoughts to interweave with each other as I dance. “

tere_head-web-1346871061Tere O’Connor brings his new work BLEED to FringeArts March 27–29. As so much of his work takes form through the process in which he works—as opposed to working towards a pre-conceived idea of  its ultimate shape—we were lucky enough to ferret out this recent interview he gave to the folks at the Ringling International Arts Festival in Sarasota, FLA, who presented two of the works which BLEED grew out of.

(For more, in-depth writing about BLEED, and the process of its creation, see Tere’s blog

Ringling: Reviewers have had a hard time describing your work. How do you prefer to describe it?

Tere O’Connor: I am looking to meditate on the expansive nature of consciousness through dance, where language, dream states, memory, and willful artifice combine to create a unique form. I am interested in dance outside of its “narrative” potential. I am making performances to be experienced, where interpretation is fluid, not fixed. My work embodies a convergence of many ideas, not a paring down to one theme. Explanations, to whatever degree they might be necessary, exist inside the dances.

I don’t mean to say that my works are immune to critique but often the modes used to critique dance do not engage the poetics that many dance artists employ. They are looking for something concrete to latch onto and I am interested in the creation of multiple meanings that include the individualized interpretations of audience members. I think, sadly, that many people and critics think there is a “secret meaning” in dance and if you don’t reveal that you are being obtuse. But dance processes information in a way that is quite different from language and I am looking to respect those fundamentally singular communicative aspects of dance.

bleed_toc_1943_pc_ian_douglasRingling: Where do you find the inspiration and catalysts for your choreography?

Tere O’Connor: Choreographic thinking is always awake in me and I start my works through movement to see what areas of interest arise in me. I use moving as a method to ruminate and allow thoughts to interweave with each other as I dance.  In a given work the experiences I am having personally, those of the performers, and the energy of what is going on culturally and politically in the world start to react with each other. Movement gets shaped during that period and starts to become the material result of that thinking. It doesn’t mime the ideas or depict them: it is just born of them and I attempt to find a container for this particular constellation of ricocheting phenomena.

I don’t search to make them clearer, I try to find a form to best express their unique interrelatedness and make that into a theatrical time-based work. It can be very different from dance to dance.

Ringling: An ongoing element in your dances has been androgyny and the fluidity of gender. Why this has been significant to you?

Tere O’Connor: I have been dealing with gender in my work since the day I started. I don’t want to engage with it as a topical element; it is a background condition. I have always wanted to live in a place where fluid gender and androgyny were a given. I prefer to create an androgynous atmosphere where the performers shift from masculinity to femininity without question and more importantly without any political proclamation. There is a deep, almost childish desire to be past this issue in my work. Many people who see this combo of [my dance works] poem and Sister remark on the androgyny. That makes me happy yet isn’t something that is prominent for me. It is partially that I am a lucky enough to have these cool performers generously offer their expansive, highly individuated selves to my work.

bleed_toc_1747_pc_ian_douglasRingling: What advice would you give someone seeing your work for the first time?

Tere O’Connor: You can look at my work, or any dance, like going to a country where you don’t speak the language, and your interpretive mind is ignited. You see people engaged in activities that look similar to yours but you don’t know what the tone is, or the specific feelings or functions are. This human trait of projecting one’s own definitions onto situations is fully engaged here. People should know that I do not look at my role as that of “message maker.”  I am another person on earth who is attempting to exhibit my experience parallel to yours in a form that doesn’t place definition in an important role.

On a very basic level, I love making dances, so I think people should just take it in and not try to figure it out. Interpretation may or may not arise as a goal for each viewer.  It might just be an experience of embodied empathy that finds its significance just in the being there. It also may dislodge some memories in a person’s mind that can comingle with the dance to make the experience specific to each viewer.

Sounds good to us, looking forward to BLEED.

Tere O’Connor Dance

March 27-29 at 7pm

140 North Columbus Boulevard
Philadelphia, PA


BLEED photos by Ian Douglas.