Parallel to Personal

by Martha Sherman

Rich and spare at the same time, Tere O’Connor’s “Long Run” may be his best work yet. In a World Premiere/LAB Commission at Bard College, O’Connor brought together a company of eight glorious dancers for 75 minutes of relentless movement. The cascade of dance never lost its connection, but pushed and pulled so that each trio, duet, and solo had its unique form and character, and the whole, yes, was genuinely greater than the sum of its parts.

O’Connor is a master of dramatic visuals, both still and fluid. The still image that opened “Long Run” was brought to life by Jin Ju Song-Begin. Wearing a shocking red-orange tunic, her arms were splayed at her side and distress marked her face as an electronic chord crashed, then became a throbbing beat. She moved in hard angular motion, quick and rigid. As dancers joined her to fill the stage, they also moved hard on the beat, pairs and quartets dancing in parallel, then forming diagonal lines.

Jin Ju Song-Begin in “Long Run.”
Photo © Chris Kayden, courtesy of Live Arts Bard.

The dancers were on high alert, their moments of awareness showing in unexpected shifts of direction and facial expressions. Sometimes these were smiles, but just as often stunned expressions of shock (one reacted to a sneeze from the audience – like a surprise that entered her consciousness and ours, as things do). From the opening discipline of lines and parallel motion, the dancers were freed to wiggle arms and crinkle shoulders, with fingers mimicking rain, then their arms released to fall softly as well. O’Connor aptly described his choreography here as “a process of observation which includes multiple, disparate elements that float in and out of synchronicity.” Those elements included not only dance movement and expression, but also the large planes of color in the costumes (red, black, white, green, designed by Strauss Bourque-Lafrance) and the changing soundscape by O’Connor that alternated with long silences, each scene attentive to the sound, but not driven by it.

There was so much to see and to watch for. As a jazzy piano riff started, the first soloist, Silas Reiner, erupted, his upper body angled in a small circumference, bending his legs, arms and head in crisp moves then allowing his hands to wave gently, despite the wild shifting of his arms. He was joined by Eleanor Hullihan and Lee Searle, and the three became a recurring trio. When the men pulled Hullihan between them, it was not to lift her but to intertwine, then break apart, each peeling off into personal movement. Although often a star performer, here Reiner was one of a talented troupe, and each dancer was just as sure, just as compelling.

O’Connor used parallel movement – and its abandonment – like waves throughout the work. The mirrored patterns emphasized each choice, the straight and the skewed, mixing body shapes and sizes. Just as powerful as the parallel movement was the counterpoint and how individual dancers came into their own. Emma Judkins ran large figure-eights around the stage surrounding several other dancers, as her long arms reached out, flipping over. Her hands shivering, she voraciously gobbled the stage. Then Song-Begin joined her and they collapsed together. As the dancers rushed in, all were transformed back into two quartets, in a new rippling connection.

Eleanor Hullihan and Simon Courchel in “Long Run.”
Photo © Chris Kayden, courtesy of Live Arts Bard.

Solos and duets peppered the work, along with the recurring trio. In a beautiful male duet (one of O’Connor’s strong suits) Mark Crousillat and Joey Loto captured each other, falling to the floor face-down, and looking back to visually capture the audience. The rest of the dancers came back in pairs to collapse in parallel, swirling up and around, on the floor, on top of each other. It was dizzying.

Every visual plane contributed to the complexity; when we saw the dancers face on, the front views were filled with depth as the dancers’ arms or legs were thrust out, invading the space. Seeing them from their sides, the dancers skittered and hopped , rotating the stage view into sharp profile. Late in the work, three of the dancers sat downstage, and our view was from their backs, as they observed their castmates in a pose that evoked “Christina’s World,” with legs bent underneath them. Other dancers slid around on their thighs to join the pose, and it seemed that the piece might have ended here. Yet in another of many re-awakenings, this time to the bell-like tones of a xylophone, four dancers stood to make a star in the center of the space.

Nothing was skimped in this performance. It felt as if it could have been edited, but it was hard to decide which scenes we would have been willing to live without. When the first coda created a possible ending, the audience sigh was audible; but the scenes that followed were so satisfying that removing any of it would have been a Solomonic challenge. In the last scene, the eight pushed and pulled each other into a still balance, for a final variation of rich connections and echoing separateness.

Copyright ©2017 by Martha Sherman

“Long Run” – Tere O’Connor
LUMA Theater, The Richard B. Fisher Center for the Performing Arts at Bard College
Annandale-on-Hudson, NY
October 14, 2017

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