Tere O’Connor, New York Live Arts

From one batch of dances to the next, the always provocative, often perplexing Tere O’Connor cycles through extremes: from hypothesis to antithesis to synthesis or smouldering collapse. This time, the experiment is as much on us as on the choreography. Can we be cured of our bad habit of reading dance like it were a novel?

The programme’s two half-hour works possess such distinct starting points that you would expect them to be nothing like each other. Secret Mary stems from O’Connor’s mentorship of the four young dancer-choreographers who perform it. (Besides his acclaim as a choreographer, he is an influential teacher and dance theorist.) Less an ensemble than a gaggle of individuals, they secrete their particular histories and predilections as dancers even when they move in tandem. Poem, on the other hand, clearly emanates from a single imagination – the choreographer’s – however the five seasoned troupers might inflect the entrancing steps.

But the dances’ shared make-up overpowers their differences. They both consist of shards – one non-sequitur after another. Straight to the end, the pieces refuse to add up. Like a maniac deprogrammer, O’Connor is intent on disappointing our need for the dramatic arc, the culmination of meaning.

The effect is akin to stumbling on a conversation midstream: we are left to focus on tone, which thankfully is always rich terrain with O’Connor. He embeds in each move a precise mood – declarative, ruminative or ironic. Still, it depends on the dancer to bring it out. And voilà: the drama that O’Connor has eliminated via fragmentation reasserts itself in the character of the dancing. After all, what is character if not the sedimentation of experience – layer upon layer of minute dramas?

In Secret Mary, Ryan Kelly’s years with the New York City Ballet loom large: the exquisite manners, the tangle of women’s bodies every danseur must negotiate, the boundless plane of Balanchine’s unearthly stage, on which it is humanly impossible to exist, though a person must try.

As for Poem, everyone was stupendous, though former Cunningham dancer Silas Reiner most compelled me because the movement most compelled him. We watch him discover the texture, quality and attack a given step lends itself to: enough drama for any dance.

Until Saturday, www.newyorklivearts.org

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