Tere O'Connor

The choreographer penetrates a closeted existence in Cover Boy.

You've said that a lot about your work over time.
I think it's important for me. When I'm taking actions I feel like I could do something and feel a sense of congratulations because it's something that works well, but it's a stopping place. I need to keep transforming it, until it starts to settle.

How long do you work like that? Allowing ideas to transform and then settle?
A long time. You might buy a new piece of music and be like, I hate that thing, and in a week, you're completely addicted to it. I really learned the same thing with my work. At the end, I make a lot of decisions and shape it. But when I was young I shaped from the second I walked in. I would have the movement made before I saw the dancers! I think it was probably important that I did that. It [led] to some groundwork in being free now, but it was pretty crazy.

How do you work with the dancers in this one?
There are places where it moves in and out of my hand being there and the dancers being able to take it over. But not necessarily in sections. It's inside of a multilayered idea. I think people have had varied responses to my work over the years—a lot of people have had responses to the structure of my work, both good and bad, but for me the most important thing is trying to relax and allow these structures to come out that I think are really important insomuch as they are a measure of otherness, fully rendered. In many ways, they're fragmentary. They relate to consciousness, but they definitely also relate to a double life and I think everyone has one of those. [Laughs]

How so?
I think a closeted life can be an exaggerated version of it, but everyone has a double life: What you present and what's going on are completely at odds with each other most of the time. And dance is such an amazing place to let that live. You can't really identify anything on the surface of the work. And what is structural is pretty free. There's no standard for any structure in dance. So that kind of relationship, from facade to inner motor, is really interesting to me. And I think that's in both the work itself and in the styles of presentation that it goes in and out of.

You said that you're working with all new dancers, but you've worked with Matthew Rogers, right?
Yes! This is mostly new dancers. It's been great working with Matthew over the last couple of years—there's a real shared experience going on, and I really trust him to take things that are not full ideas. We can work them out together. Heather [Olson] was going to maybe be in this, and then she became pregnant and this idea of men started knocking at the back of my head and slowly came to the front of my head. [Laughs] I have a feeling I'm going to keep working this way.

In what way?
In casting my work. I think having a company is a vestige of modern dance. It's actually really beautiful, and I don't feel one way about it. At the same time, I look at someone like Mike Leigh—someone who played the cashier in one movie is the lead in the next. So there's a family of people that I probably would repeat, but not necessarily everybody all the time. It's good to bring new people in. You become so much more central to the process when everyone knows what you're thinking. When people are new, you have to re-relate to everyone. Something amazing happened in this piece with that. I had to come to terms with the new kinetics in the room. How they danced and how that did or didn't jibe with what I do. Ultimately, I was like, use what they do. And that's what happened.

Is this your first all-male piece?
Well, there was a piece called Double flower possibility, performed by Christopher Batenhorst and myself many years ago. In a way, I forget that it's all men. I do and I don't. This was the natural next step. I think there's a gender fluidity that I'm interested in on the bodies and in ideas in the work. That's here too, I think. I remember [critic] Burt Supree said something about the dance I did called Boy, Boy, Giant, Baby: "There's a fierce prissiness about it." That's really right to me, somehow. My relationship to the feminine—I wouldn't want to define it, but I feel kind of like a mom that never had kids or something. I like looking at myself that way.

I wouldn't disagree.
Yeah. I feel kind of like that and even trying to assume that role in terms of making work. Not being a dad in your work, but being a mom.