URBANA — When Tere O’Connor writes choreography, the room is silent. Music comes later, after the dance is complete.
After all, the University of Illinois professor and renowned choreographer thinks, why should he design his work of art around art that’s already been created?
“It just seemed like, ‘I’m not going to make a painting to a book,’” O’Connor said. “I did it a couple of times in college, and it’s really restricting. You just kind of fill it in. So I went down a different pathway at a young age of trying to figure out, ‘What can you do with choreography, how can you find music starting from choreography?’ I am basically creating music by making a dance. There’s rhythm inside of it. And then I make a score that goes with that.”
So dance comes first. Then he writes the score.
For the last 38 years, O’Connor has run his dance company, Tere O’Connor Dance, in that fashion, and for 11 of those years he’s held the position of Center for Advanced Studies Professor in Dance at Illinois, where he teaches one semester each year. During his career, he’s become a United States Artists Rockefeller Fellow, Guggenheim Fellow, and a Doris Duke Performing Artist, and he’s won three “Bessie” Awards, which are akin to the Academy Awards or Grammys in the dance world.
His New York-based company, though, has never performed in Champaign-Urbana. That’ll change tonight, when Tere O’Connor Dance performs “Long Run” in Krannert Center for the Performing Arts’ Colwell Playhouse.
“It’s a really exciting moment to do this with my community here,” he said.
Because he doesn’t use music to design his dance, O’Connor said he doesn’t restrict himself to musical concepts, and he doesn’t pin his work to one style of dance. Instead, he said he lets his thoughts run wild to create a “stage drawing of consciousness.”
“I think it’s a show for everyone,” he said. “There’s not just one style, there’s many styles. Yet it’s a very high dynamic situation that I think kind of answers some of the intensity that we’re living out right now in the world. And the amazing dancers are brought in and out of incredibly stormy moments in the piece. They are set reeling and their equilibrium comes out and back again. So it kind of goes between those two areas of destabilization and balance somehow.”
O’Connor knows dance can seem cryptic. But whether they’re dance aficionados or first-time viewers of this kind of show, he said those in attendance this weekend shouldn’t go searching for hidden meanings.
“Sometimes people think there’s a hidden thing to understand, but there’s not,” he said. “It’s just a parallel language to ours that doesn’t have kind of denotation at its center. It’s working at some other area of existence.”