Tere O’Connor’s site-specific dance Rammed Earth comes to Miami
By John Kramel
|Tere O’Connor Dance members Matthew Rogers and Christopher Williams will perform Rammed Earth at the Dorsch Gallery in Miami Photo: Julieta Cervantes
I am a movement-inhibited stiff, but have grown to love dance—especially modern and contemporary dance—as an audience member. So when I read about a forthcoming dance concert in which “audience members become active participants,” my knees clamp together and my shoulders hunch in dread. But this is what Tigertail Productions’ website says about Rammed Earth, Tere O’Connor’s site-specific piece coming on November 14 and 15 to Dorsch Gallery in the Wynwood Arts District.
What can I expect? I have the paper hand-out from last year’s performance of Rammed Earth at New York’s Chocolate Factory, which shows three rectangles, identified as Sections 2 through 4. The hand-out reads, “When you enter the space please sit in any chair preset around the room ... Please look at the number on the backrest of your chair (either 1 or 2) … You are seated in the position for Section 1.” Each of the rectangles shows where one is to place one’s chair for each of the succeeding three sections. In Section 2, the audience is all seated in one long row on one long side. Section 3 has the 1’s on one side and the 2’s on the other, and the final section has everyone on one end.
I breathe a sigh of relief. It is my chair that will be moving—not me so much. Now I’m fascinated with the thought of playing musical chairs.
New York-based Tere (pronounced Terry) O’Connor has, over his 25-year career, created 30 dance works that have been performed by his company throughout the world. He has been commissioned by Lyon Opera Ballet, Mikhail Baryshnikov and Mark Morris’ White Oak Project and numerous other companies in the United States, Canada and Europe. His awards include three Bessies and a Guggenheim fellowship, as well as so many others that space does not allow. Critics and dancers have praised him at each step of the way, as a choreographer, teacher, curator and mentor in the dance community. He has a reputation for quirkiness and innovativeness. His dances do not tell stories or describe events as much as utilize “pure” dance movements to communicate very directly with the audience.
|Heather Olson and Christopher Williams in a moment from Rammed Earth Photo: Paula Court
Dance Magazine’s Chris Dohse wrote in 2002 that “O'Connor's movement alphabet is filled with recognizable steps like passe and croise as well as idiosyncratic gestures ... In O'Connor's danced world, random, forbidding outbursts alternate with scenes of inexplicable emotional fragility.”
Now South Florida audiences finally have an opportunity to see O’Connor’s work here for the first time.
Tigertail’s website describes Rammed Earth as exploring “architecture as a fundamental, subliminal force in choreography as well as in the human experience.” Rammed earth is a building technique in which dirt is dug up, mixed with water and clay and then tamped back down, creating very solid walls.
O’Connor describes his use of rammed earth as “not just a metaphor that’s poetic but an active metaphor. You begin, you go through a choreographic process, and something is born right from the place you’re working.” In Rammed Earth, O’Connor says, the dance is “like water; if you put it in a bowl it fills the bowl, if you put it in a shoebox then it will fill the shoebox. It has what I call liquid space: It’s fixed dance, but the dancers can snake around and interpret the choreography according to the specific space in which we’re performing.”
The dancers will indeed snake around the audience at the beginning of this piece. Chairs are placed in a seemingly haphazard pattern throughout the large concrete rectangle that is Dorsch Gallery. In subsequent sections the audience views the dancers in more traditional settings. O’Connor states that these configurations bring “a sense of dimensionality not inherent in pieces presented before an audience. The second section willfully switches from an immersion to just such a proscenium setting, but I hope that the sense of dimensionality remains. People often just read the front information of dance. The experience of feeling these different levels of space will hopefully lead the dance to being understood in a more embodied way.”
|Heather Olson, Christopher Williams and Matthew Rogers in Rammed Earth Photo: Paula Court
To explore the architectural connection, Tigertail will present a panel discussion, The Body of Space: A Dialogue Between Dancers and Architects, on November 12. The panel includes O'Connor, architect Rene Gonzalez, choreographer Dale Andree and the Director of FIU’s School of Architecture, Nathaniel Belcher. Miami Art Museum’s Richard Townsend will moderate.
Further unearthing of Rammed Earth will be available at a post-concert discussion with O’Connor and the company members following the November 14 performance. But playing musical chairs with four fabulous dancers might be enough to experience and understand this extraordinary dance piece.
Rammed Earth will be presented Friday, November 14, 8:30 p.m. and Saturday, November 15, 2 p.m. and 8:30 p.m., at Dorsch Gallery, 151 NW 24th St., Wynwood Arts District, Miami. Seating is limited. The panel discussion, The Body of Space: A Dialogue Between Dancers and Architects, will be presented Wednesday, November 12, 6:30 p.m., at FIFI Projects Gallery, 167-B NW 23rd St., Wynwood Arts District, Miami. For more, contact Tigertail Productions at 305-545-8546 or www.tigertail.org/events_oconnor.html.
Have a comment about what you’ve read? E-mail email@example.com.