Tuesday, September 16, 2003

Lawn Ramblings: Tere O’Conner, Monday Night 

Beautiful Newmark Theatre. Bare black stage, a movie screen hung on the black back wall. On the screen, a woman on a couch reclines reading. A man sits at a table writing. Other typical, suburban scenes. The frame around the movie screen was gorgeous, ferns in green light framing the scenes. FAKE ferns, get it? Because Suburbia is fake.
You know, that place where everything is bad. And they’ve got bunnies, and evil witches and littering Suburbanites whose throwaway fly away napkins symbolize…uh…something.
Do I sound annoyed? I don’t want to be, but when I see a work so obviously thought out with intelligence, good production values, and an eye for pretty staging, I have high expectations conceptually as well.
Tere O’Conner and company explored the myth of Suburbia then flew and stumbled back to tell us a spastic fairy tale about it. The performance was a telling, a conceptual snapshot, that like a fairy tale, gives us recognizable archetypes for cultural reference. It’s a perfectly explorable idea, it has potential. Especially in the way O’Conner uses filmed scenes above the company of dancers to juxtapose images of Nature and Suburbia.
But it falls short. The images just turn into capital m Metaphors for why Suburbia is bad.
On one level, O’Conner appears to be ironic giving us this metaphor of LAWN. The natural world placated, polluted and domesticated by another archetype, MODERN (WO)MAN. But the payoff never comes. The humor and self awareness of irony is not added by, say, inserting a character that only exists onscreen to provide comic relief, like the Evil Garbage Witch. That’s slapstick. Why were we laughing? Because a guy had a dress on. In this one instance, and all throughout the performance, a consistent lack of depth, or lack of willingness to keep exploring, kept me frustrated.
Suburbia bad. The same slogan reinterpreted over and over, like an Anti War rally sign. I mean how many ways can you say George Bush Is Ruining Our Country!? We know it needs to be said. We all know it’s true. But unless we get to the heart of what makes Suburbia a BAD place and Mr. Bush a BAD president, and why we need to care about those things, we are all just frustrated activists with the same chant over and over. At what point do we merge the form and the content? At what point does it become art?
I wondered why this was a dance piece. The relationship between the dancers and the film seemed like mere exposition, and again, with some lovely images.
This review isn’t about the staging or the dancing. It was all competent, in some places sparkling with graceful bodies, though I would say Mr. O’Conner himself seemed distracted onstage at points, like he was being choreographer and tracking the dance as a whole instead of giving in to the ensemble.
But it almost didn’t matter. I never felt any of the dance in my body, never lost myself in dancers feet or attitude, never knew why O’Conner chose to express this idea through dance rather than, say, music or any other way of saying it. The murky relationships between the film and the dance, and between the performers themselves, made me disassociate from the dancers to focus on the ideas.
Ultimately, this is a performance about ideas.
Suburbia Bad. Dance good.

Sage Ricci

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