BWW Reviews: BLEED by Tere O'Connor at FringeArts

Dance is notoriously difficult to describe in words. Reading reviews of dance by two different critics, one can often wonder if they even attended the same performance. So, Before seeing Tere O'Connor's BLEED at FringeArts in Philadelphia, I did not read reviews of the premiere performances, which took place last December as part of BAM's 2013 Next Wave Festival.

Instead, I read O'Connor's own "process blog" (, which contains author's notes and videos. The irony of the blog, of course, is that O'Connor writes at length about a work that attempts, in part, to explore the disconnect between dance and language. BLEED does not present a defined narrative, but instead a choreographic foundation onto which audiences can build their own multiple meanings. After enjoying BLEED Thursday at FringeArts, I decided to read reviews of the premier so I could see what meaning others had mapped onto this interesting work.

Apolliniare Scherr, of the Financial Times, described BLEED as "electrifying" and "full of invention." But for me, some of the vitality of BLEED seems to have - well - bled, now that it has left the generative womb of BAM's intimate Fishman Space. Though there is hardly a bad seat in FringeArts, most of the audience watched BLEED from above, creating quite different sight lines, and a less immediate and raw experience.

Brian Seibert, in The New York Times, wrote, "It is not a story. It is not music made visible. It does not follow an established or predictable form. It is not random. It is not dull." There is, however, a fair amount of repetition both on small and larger levels, creating structures from which audiences can freely associate meaning. At least three times through the dance, Oisin Monaghan finds himself lying in the center of the playing space, surrounded by the remaining ten dancers. Elsewhere, Heather Olson, who is the first dancer to appear at all in BLEED, repeats bits of choreography and emerges, like Oisin, almost like a "protagonist" as a result.

Larger repetitions within the structure of the dance are some what necessary, in order to hold the focus of both the performers and the audience. But, sometimes the performers indulged in recollections of earlier moments in the dance a bit too long. By more briefly exploring these memories of earlier movement, as when Monaghan lies like a cadaver center stage, the dance might be tighter and more impactful, especially towards the end.

In addition to larger structural repetitions, O'Connors dancers repeat sequences of movement, which he calls "lines." Like dervishes who use repetitive movement to meditate, the dancers enter another state, occasionally even transporting the audience with them. Towards the beginning of the work, for example, the male dancers traced figure eights around the playing space, walking delicately on the front pads of the their feet, arms partially raised at the sides. Their individual and collective movement was not only hypnotically pretty, but also spoke to larger themes of gender, sexuality, and double consciousness that O'Connor hopes to explore through dance.

The original music and sound design by James Baker was compelling. One of the most beautiful passages of music featured cellist Chris Gross. Though Gross was playing solo, Baker overlaid tracks at unmeasured intervals to create an intoxicating, albeit irregular, polyphony, almost like a piece for a post-modern viol consort.

Sections of vocal music featuring the highly expressive voice of Julia Read were moving. During certain tracks on which Read sang, Baker played independent parts through different audio channels to create interesting spatial effects. In other sections, Baker overlaid his own drone-like chanting on top of itself, evoking elements of Tibetan throat singing and Medieval fauxbourdon. During rare moments, the dancers themselves used to their voices and to great effect to sonically mimic their movement, while at others, Baker played a collage of found sounds like the insects singing.

One of the only unsuccessful parts of Baker's music and sound design, in my opinion, were percussive portions to signify vaguely "tribal" drumming, which he paired to similarly "tribal" choreography O'Connor and his dancers created. Baker's musical choice here was literal to the point of being a bit essentialzing. In the future, O'Connor might want to bring the composer into the rehearsal room before a dance is completed, rather than using music composed ex post facto.

Walter Dundervill's (mostly) gender-neutral costumes were beautifully draped, and moved very well. His palette of primarily neutral grays with occasional pops of color added to the abstract structures that O'Connor created. Michael O'Connor's lighting design, though minimal, was effective.

Overall, O'Connor and his team have created an interesting and enjoyable work. BLEED left less of an impression on me than it did on some of the original audiences. But, I am curious to see more of O'Connor's work in the future, and hope is able to continue to work with these current dancers, all of whom have collaborated with him previously on separate works. Though BLEED is "choreographed" by O'Connor, it is truly a "devised" work, and its success owes much of its success to the dancers.

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From This Author Stephen Raskauskas

Stephen Raskauskas is passionate about the performing arts. As a performing artist, he has collaborated on productions acclaimed by the Wall Street Journal, Chicago Tribune, (read more...)