Tere O'Connor

The choreographer penetrates a closeted existence in Cover Boy.

What's the difference?
Being able to see complication and deal with it as opposed to destroy it and move toward singularity.

That was fast.
[Laughs] That's how it is. The whole world is like that! What men have made, it's like, Can we try something else now?

What were you looking for when you auditioned dancers?
I had an audition for about 12 people, and I'm always looking for people that get themselves somehow. And I was looking for people with very different experiences, movementwise. All of my past dancers have had a university [background]—they have killer chops, but have let it go to become this other evolved being. There are different degrees of that or not in this piece, and that's what I also really like. It's the same thing I was talking about before in terms of placing disparate elements in close proximity to each other; it's the same thing with the history of these bodies. They're not coming toward a common language that I'm creating, they exist together. In my early work, unison was a central research I was doing: I was really trying to see how much information I could extract from that, and it's been going on and on and on in my work, and now the unison is really frayed and just on the edge of not being unison.

What was it like for you in terms of being gay when you were younger?
It was terrifying where I grew up to be gay. Everything you launched into was, What does that person think of me? Do they know? It was fear of death basically. I grew up in a really rural place in the '60s. You were fucked if you were gay. Every day it was, Go toward that, no wrong message—veer off! You had to take on changeability at the same time you were constructing a character that could reside inside this other society that wasn't yours. And that is so in my work. Sometimes you'd be with someone and be like, Have I been too floral or not floral enough? How do I end this thing? Sometimes the way that I talk, which is kind of odd sometimes, is born of that experience: of a real personalization of language. And that's all through my work. Sometimes I'm talking and there's a motor to it and I'm like, I don't even know where this is coming from! But it was born way back then. And it came from a safety mechanism. I don't use dance to replicate language at all, yet I do think it is language resituated. There was a beautiful moment in my life when I was learning Italian—I had an Italian boyfriend when I was 21 for ten years, and I was in Italy learning Italian. I knew a little bit of French and so I would have to, when I was learning, go from English through French to Italian and I loved being between all those languages. It was this kind of hallucination of language that I was really driven by and that's when I started making my first dances—right in the middle of that time.

How did you come out?
I was coming out in a background of extreme Catholicism and extreme small-town-ism. And then, for me, an unbelievably out-of-control love for my family that really enhanced how horrible it was that I felt isolated. It didn't happen until I was in college. I was really heavy and I lost a lot of weight really quickly. It was an amazing moment for me. But it was very difficult. A lot of people have this experience: You can lose your family. You can lose a lot of things. It's just horrible. That's part of what I want to do in this piece—to bring up a bit of that intensity. I look back at it, and the experience of being closeted has defined me more than my DNA, more than my family relationships—it is the No. 1 thing. It also makes me make the work that I make. Part of this piece contains some of the difficulty of that experience. There are a couple of areas that go into that painful area. Expressive. There's a value system: What I love and what I'm attracted to in art, in people and in everything, is definitely a result of that experience. All the art I'm attracted to has some kind of specificity of self that really rings out to me. Whenever there's a group engagement of artists turned in and looking at one thing, I'm like, Arghh—I don't want to be in that. I really like my work to look out at the world. Artistic movements, where everyone has agreed on something, are very strange for me. I get it and think it's interesting to push things forward: I don't like to engage in it. It's not that I don't like it. I just can't. I think I'm really engaged in the community, but I'm not asking the same questions. The young people I mentor are in a really different place that's so interesting to me—but I'm not doing what they're doing. But that's also really beautiful.

Were you thinking about the space of Danspace Project specifically for this piece?
I had another idea that was about having a divided dance experience, like a closeted dance and another dance that was going to be in the Parish Hall and people went back and forth and I was like, No, that's too much of a device. But it was a way of visualizing a kind of division I wanted to have reside in the piece.

How did the title come to you?
My titles always come by putting a lot of the ideas together, and something about Cover Boy is literal—like a covered boy as a closeted thing. The words boy, mother, cold and frozen have been in my work for years. They're these generic places that ideas emanate for me, so boy was important.

Are you exploring beauty in this?
One part of it is working with beauty. But there's a real depth of experience by the end of the piece. It's not about beauty in a way that's superficial. And there's a lot of sexuality and desire in this piece that gets expressed and normalized somehow, which is one of the actions I'm interested in looking at: where sexuality resides if it's not hidden. I would like to take that further. [Pauses and laughs] It just would turn into porn. There are so many levels of desire in the gay experience. Especially where I was growing up; it wasn't free. Some young kids have this really amazing experience where they can do their sexuality when they're young. Mine was all imagined until I was in college and so it's like you're really fixating on these people that you can't have and all that kind of tired shit. There's a pretty complicated desire network going on in it that I'm happy about. I think it's really different from the work I've made recently. I want my work to be able to evolve. It's kind of an addiction that when I set something forth, something starts to happen by observing and accessing as opposed to fashioning it. And that's what I'm really addicted to. People are like, [Dramatically] "Do you have another dance in you?" No. There's always a dance that could potentially form itself if I direct it in that way. It's pretty much a luxury to be an artist. Even though you're a poor fuck if you're a dancer. It's pretty amazing to have a group of humans who have validated me and made this space for me to keep doing this and not have to compromise it very much. I feel like I have to respect it and continue to allow the thing to transform.

Tere O'Connor Dance is at Danspace Project Dec 8--11, 13 and 15.

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