Investigating energy and space in Tere O’Connor’s Rivulets
December 7–10, 14–17, 2022
Tere O’Connor’s Rivulets begins in complete darkness. The music—an original score composed by O’Connor himself—permeates the space, filling the entire building for a moment. The lights rise, and the performers, relaxed over each other, gently awaken, stirred by the music. Inextricably intertwined with the choreography, sound propels movement, generating stylistic shifts and altering energetic connections. The music controls the speed, quality, and emotion of choreography and initiates moments of pause during quiet tones and audio transitions. With flinging limbs, strong torsos, rising, and falling, the auditory and visual weave into one another. The score ranges from dramatic strings to white noise to quiet ambience. The transfer of weight, of bare feet on the marley, forms part of the soundscape of Rivulets as well. The audience sits close enough to not only see, but to hear the choreography. At this distance, one can even detect sparkles of sweat in the air from the dancers’ exertion and constant movement. Positioned face-to-face on either side of the stage, the audience members perceive each other along with the performance. As a backdrop to the choreography, this spatial organization urges viewers to consider their own physical reaction and interaction with the performance.
Every performer remains on stage for the entire sixty-minute duration of Rivulets. One or two performers take turns sitting on the wooden benches on either end of the stage, but there is hardly a moment of complete stillness. From the sidelines, the performers keenly observe those who continue to dance, swiveling their eyes and heads to trace the spiraling paths of movement through space. Dancers constantly make eye contact with one another, and occasionally break the fourth wall to stare directly at the audience. The piece is concerned with observation, and in this way, integrates the audience into the performance.
O’Connor’s program note states he is “not looking for a theme to emerge… [he makes] dances to escape the pragmatic.” With this in my mind, I interpreted this piece as immensely physical, and focused on choreographic details, sound, and space. With the explicit lack of narrative, Rivulets centers the pure corporeality of the movement. A dance about dancing. The dancers don’t embody characters or roles; they perform as a collective with a shared language of movement. The piece toyed with falling in and out of unison, with the ways bodies of varying age, shape, height, and background interpreted the same movement, but the phrase work was all set within a specific lexicon. This choreographic vocabulary borrows fundamentals of ballet (pliés and tendus) and explores the interplay between sustained and percussive dynamics in a sense of controlled franticness. The composition of Rivulets negotiates varied levels and tempos, creating an unyielding force.
The program notes that “the movement material for this work was created in collaboration with the dancers,” and clear moments of individualism arise in the scattered solos. Leslie Cuyjet explored gestures and subtle facial expressions; Emma Judkins isolated different body parts in fast, fleeting motions; Wendell Gray extended his body through pathways. With glimpses of these unique styles, I was left wondering about the performers’ connection to one another, about the process of collaborating within a movement framework particular to O’Connor.
The title of the work, Rivulets, encapsulates the momentum of its choreography. A constant current of spiraling movement fills the stage, but the performers mostly stay in their own space. While the performers do interact with each other and the choreography articulates relationships, there is little physical contact between them. The few moments of physical contact—for instance, an embrace between two dancers—are precious and moving, standing starkly in contrast to the unison and group work. A ripple in the current, and, to me, a moment of relief.