Tuesday, September 16, 2003

Tere O'Connor Lawn 

Before the dance begins you get a clue to what Tere O’Connor’s Lawn is about. On a large screen on stage, a video plays the repeated actions of people in everyday life. A woman typing, a woman reading, a man cutting potatoes, a woman washing a pan, a young man watching TV.
Then the dance begins. Two sets of three dancers on the stage. The dancers are wearing colorful flowing robes. There are two instruments being played. One set of dancers follows one instrument, and the other set of dancers follow the other instrument. Beautiful movement and syncopation.
Out in the audience, through the inchoate darkness, I immediately land in the dance. I am a part of a whole, connected. I feel myself settle into the chair. I think: ordinary everyday movements shall be exalted and I am going to know something more about the dance of everyday life.
The dancers leave the stage and when the dancers return they are divested of their colorful flowing robes. They are wearing street clothes. They are still making ordinary movements, but these movements have changed, as the music has changed. Everyone looks as if they are trying to wash their hands of some stain that won’t go away.
As the dance continues, the music and the movement become more and more disjointed, frenetic. I think: this dance is not about every day movements, this dance is about our alienation from nature. Then I think: perhaps in a technological world gone mad, we the people, in our ordinary everyday movements, contain this madness within our bodies
The dance, which is about movement, becomes movement which is about the stain of science and industry. The stain which has made the grass a lawn, a house a McMansion, a Deux Chaveaux an SUV.
Nature vs. technology.
Flowing syncopation vs. frenetic movement.
The dance begins with flowing robes and ends with two polluted dead bodies.

Then there’s the video going on behind the dancers. Ugly Helga, Mother Nature’s Twisted Sister in a lush romantic natural setting is harvesting plastic sacks and making pasta out of them. The world is a cement monolith holding up an endless freeway. Cars wiz by. Naked people in an elegant house are eating plastic pasta. All the images in the video juxtapose nature with the pollution of nature.
The video, as played along above the dancers, underscores the piece’s dichotomy.
Dance vs. video.
So many times, I ended up looking at the video and missed the movements of the dancers, which upset me. I was back in inchoate darkness. Then I think: perhaps that is the intention of the dance, to cause this confusion in me, so I can feel the dance’s message.

It looks as if I am to talk about Lawn, a dance, I’m going to have to use some writing terms.
Let’s say I’m writing a story about an oil spill off the coast of Alaska. The arc of the story is this: an aging rusted iron boat filled with oil crashes into a sand bar and the oil leaks out and the whole area in contaminated.
That’s what I call the horizontal, the plot.
Now how about the vertical?
The vertical is the voice, the human voice who is telling the story of the wrecked oil liner. The success of the piece depends on how well the voice can speak clearly and honestly the heartbreak of this oil liner tragedy and thus give me new insight and new information. Without a compelling voice, the story of the wrecked oil liner becomes a CNN news report.

The horizontal of Tere O’Connor’s Lawn is environmental pollution. The voice of Lawn, however, tells me nothing new about the subject. The piece seems formulaic. Nature is good. Technology is bad. People feel good in nature. People feel bad in a technologically polluted world.
After leaving the performance and talking with friends, and now that I sit down to write, I feel hit over the head with Message. I want to get back to those people typing, reading, watching TV, cutting up potatoes.
And that’s where I feel the quandary. So much of the movement—the vertical, the voice, the language--of the piece is remarkable. The beginning was beautiful--I said that—and throughout the dance as well, I kept having moments of surprise and delight as these six people moved into one another and then moved out. At times, it felt like a robotic tango, machines on ecstasy trying to feel human.
The bottom line of Lawn is, though, we’re going to hell in a Humvee. I already know that and this dance piece, despite its intermittent beauty, doesn’t open up anything new on the subject.
Perhaps if the dance stayed with the dancers and away from the technology—the video—perhaps simply through the investigation of movement, perhaps if the human alienation stayed embodied only in the dancers, we the audience could have been revealed startlingly to ourselves as the tragic beings we are—human beings whose story will end by self-contamination.
If the dance itself cannot tell the story--which by the way I think it does, or comes damn close to it--then don’t throw a video in there to manumit us to the end, and ultimately, meaning.
As it is, I feel like I have made love to a beautiful lover and now, as we are basking in the afterglow of our enchanting dance, suddenly, and unfortunately, this beautiful guy opens his mouth. It’s not that what he says is bad or how he says it—he actually is quite eloquent. It’s just that it’s all so predictable and believe me, I’ve heard this story before.

Tom Spanbauer

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