New York choreographer Tere O'Connor delivered a sort of master class Thursday night at the Walker Art Center's McGuire Theater. His production, "BLEED," beautifully demonstrated what it takes to build a compelling evening-length dance work. A curious and very competent audience of Twin Cities choreographers and movers were along for the ride.
A pale, lovely dancer in an emerald green dress opened "BLEED" with a center-stage sway. Composer/sound designer James Baker's compelling piston-like sound score built as the dancer began spinning, drawing in an additional quartet of watchers, and other cast members.
The 11 dancers — a luxury for a post-modern, pick-up touring company — are strong, liquid and experienced movers.
The work is informed and constructed using movement material from three other works. O'Connor calls this piece "fragile and powerful."
It is. It was also funny in parts, especially when the savvy cast members caught each other's eye and we were let in on the joke.
"BLEED" is not a dance theater piece; it is a movement manifesto. The fact that it was revived and toured after a successful 2013 run speaks to the importance of its message.
The ensemble is dressed like dark angels, some women in dresses (some men, too), others in jeans and deconstructed T-shirts. They move through the work's sections to a score that includes cello (classical and otherwise), voice and a percussive step that creates a tribal vibe onstage.
The audience let out an audible "ah" when one gestural flutter of all hands up was released. Those moments, spontaneous and rare, mark the connection that we crave from choreographers.
O'Connor is a master of these moments. The dancers moved through a messy allemande into a section of staccato hugs, then an almost conversational game of tag, and built a series of catch-and-release falls in a diagonal segment that was mesmerizing. While there is a dark idea afloat — the piece is called BLEED, after all — the audience was smiling throughout, caught in the moments unfolding in front of them.
Not all the dancers have starring roles, but they are all important to the structure of the dance. Even when they were silent and seated, we watched them. Micheal O'Connor's lighting design sets a mood but doesn't intrude.
When the end comes in a wonderful blackout moment, the audience exhaled, satisfied and grateful for the powerful lesson.
Amy Lamphere is a Minneapolis writer.