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Dance review: Tere O'Connor Dance in 'Wrought Iron Fog' at the REDCAT

October 15, 2010 | 12:42 pm


There are moments at the REDCAT when the five members of Tere O'Connor Dance seem to be summarizing the history of their art. You can find pointed toes and courtly bows from the age of ballet, sassy hip-rolling and audience-courting out of  pop- and show-dancing, plus plenty of examples of nonlinear, postmodern abstraction.

But the biggest clue to the abundant secrets and questions of the hour-long piece that opened Thursday for a four-performance run comes from O'Connor's title: “Wrought Iron Fog.” On a stage framed with strands of rope or twine that can look solid or transparent depending on the lighting effects of Michael O'Connor,  we are clearly at the intersection of body and spirit.

A New York-based choreographer with 35 works to his credit and nearly as many awards,  O'Connor has spoken of  “the coexistence of fixed states and constant change” as one element in this piece. A key statement of this concept comes in a solo near the end for Matthew Rogers, alternately freezing in poses as rigid and decorative as wrought iron, then swirling away into passages as flowing and evanescent as mist. His fingers rippling, his long, blond hair creating a kind of sea spray around him, Rogers liquefies for moments at a time, then reclaims his finite physicality for weighty turning jumps.
It's a powerful example of self-definition, like the one that finds Hilary Clark backing away from a group frieze, then suddenly and gracelessly falling. But Clark rises from this awkward “accident” into the most solemn and majestic dancing of the evening -- pure and perfectly controlled.

“Wrought Iron Fog” teems with such personal events, many of them offering tantalizing emotional implications, though no narrative resolutions. For instance, Heather Olson and Daniel Clifton link up quietly and discreetly more than once, but the relationship between Rogers and Erin Gerken grows increasingly turbulent, with her literally throwing herself at him and on him near the end of the piece, an assault that she seems to regret when she withdraws from the encounter.

The big shifts of action are reinforced in a score by James Baker that incorporates music, sound effects and patches of words excerpted from  Samuel Beckett. Its multiple sources complement the diversity of O'Connor's choreographic vocabulary, though his use of hands may be the most striking component of his movement arsenal. Hands don't signal or mime or embellish in “Wrought Iron Fog,” they lead the body, pull it upward or forward, set up force fields, become the agents of change.

In a lengthy duet framed and enhanced by the other dancers, Gerken and Olson connect in actions that initially look like embraces but increasingly evoke combat -- and it's all in the hands, the difference between caressing and grappling.

Although O'Connor can be devious and unsparing, he allows just enough unisons in the piece to satisfy the need for a sense of order in all this resonant but fragmentary individual activity. But his unisons can also express the breakdown of order, as when the two men share a devastating loss of control, helplessly staggering and collapsing over and over -- perfectly in sync -- and just barely managing to remain upright at the close of the sequence.

It's a shared human condition -- this heroic struggle to remain upright, this fearful intersection of the body and spirit.  We will all fall, as Clark does, or stagger and collapse, as Clifton and Rogers do. There are no fixed states. Wrought iron rusts and crumbles, fog swallows everything up. And a one-hour dance that resolutely refuses to deliver a message ends up telling deeper truths than we might want to hear.

-- Lewis Segal

Tere O'Connor Dance: “Wrought Iron Fog.” REDCAT, 631 W. 2nd St. 8:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday; 7 p.m. Sunday, 1 hour. $20-$25 (213) 237-2800 or

Photo: The Tere O'Connor Dance company. Credit: Glenn Koenig