BLEED (FringeArts): Tere O’Connor’s dance embraces all

I am just attempting to help the viewer come on board with what might feel like an enigmatic project. The intense complexity of living on earth right now finds a good friend in dance. Spending some time with an information system that does not hope to deliver messages but rather acts as a container for multiple individual responses, might prove to be an antidote to the polarizing dogma that holds our world in its grip.

-Tere O’Connor, program notes for BLEED.

Tere O'Connor's BLEED at FringeArts this weekend

Photo courtesy of Tere O’Connor Dance.

The much-talked-about BLEED, running this weekend only as the next page in FringeArts’ idiosyncratic year-round programming, opened in New York last year to what seems like universal praise. The dance piece is the culmination of two years of work and three other dance pieces, which O’Connor made, then digested and collapsed into BLEED.

“[T]his masterly work,” says Brian Seibert’s review at the New York Times, “[. . .] can seem to include everything.”

“It is not a story,” he goes on. “It is not music made visible. It does not follow an established or predictable form. It is not random. It is not dull.”

There’s no paucity of articles about the piece. Audiences were vast, and clearly broadly affected.

The language which viewers and reviewers use to talk about this piece drip with—consciously in some cases, unconsciously in others—the language of New York avant-garde theatermaker Richard Foreman’s manifestos. Foreman, whose theater embraced dance and eschewed narrative, effervesced from one topic to the next, confounding anyone attempting to find “story.” Seriously comedic, Foreman believed in putting on stage not the thoughts which the mind outlines, but rather the consciousness’ movement from thought to impression to distraction to void and back to new thoughts.

He also declared that piece can’t have just one theme; it must encompass all themes, because the mind can only consider all themes at once.

Tere O'Connor's BLEED at FringeArts this weekend

Photo courtesy of Tere O’Connor Dance.

Such work is both demanding and easy to watch; casual viewers might feel lost in a (non)narrative grammar which is alien to them, yet the freedom of completely open art like this is that it operates on a purely emotional level, allowing it to reverberate across the viewer’s own history and mean to you what it means to you, damn the others.

BLEED reviewers have been respectfully reticent in ascribing meaning to the piece. They record the empirical, the brief images and interactions which play themselves out. “Each image or section of a dance is absent in the next,” says O’Connor in the program notes, “but its essence remains to color the forthcoming events.” So each scene is ghosted by the one following it, and the piece itself and its presence is very difficult to make live on paper.

“But there is no need to feel intimidated,” says Bruce Walsh in his excellent and accessible preview over at Metro, “[O’Connor’s] dances are intended to bring joy to all, especially those not steeped in the language of modern dance.”

In a perfect world this is always true of dance, though it does sound like the kind of thing that art-lovers always say about art because to us it should be true; meanwhile the uninitiated stand back crinkling their eyes. Most likely, this is the kind of work which will appeal most to those open to conceptual art; the reality of each moment is deeply important and yet somehow irrelevant to the whole, which becomes about process and the shifts between moments. It becomes a chemical composition; you don’t taste the salt you put in your chocolate cake, but without the salt it wouldn’t be what it is.

“I see sheets of rain and trees in the everglades,” says one (eloquent) commentator on O’Connor’s blog: “I felt the humidity of Florida, and thought how true that you are working with ghosts (hidden structures, past dances, past lives, the children we once were, dreams) because ghosts assume more stable form in that kind of climate.”

Tere O'Connor's BLEED at FringeArts this weekend

Photo courtesy of Tere O’Connor Dance.

This is one person’s impression. Which is probably as close to the truth of this piece as any review will get; yet it may be completely irrelevant to me.

See BLEED, whether you think you’ll get it or not. In the end, there’s nothing to get, no message O’Connor is sending you, only an experience. What’s beautiful to you is beautiful, what’s ugly is ugly, and what’s fearful is fearful; though the audience is full of observers, the only secret here is that every moment in the dance exists for you alone. [FringeArts, 140 N Columbus Blvd] Mar 27-29, 2014. www.fringearts.org.

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About the author

Julius Ferraro

Julius Ferraro is a journalist, playwright, performer, and project manager in Philadelphia. He is co-founder of Curate This and editor-in-chief of thINKingDANCE. His recent plays include Parrot Talk, Micromania, and The Death and Painful Dismemberment of Paul W. Auster.