St. Mark’s Church
New York, NY
December 11, 2011
By Martha Sherman
Copyright © 2011 by Martha Sherman
Who would have thought the old man had so much tender in him? Tender isn’t the first adjective that comes to mind about the work of Tere O’Connor. But in the world premiere of “Cover Boy,” at Danspace Project, the sharp edges were softened, and the loveliness and vulnerability of four young men was both haunting and enlightening.
The strongest solo was danced by Rogers, who moved across the stage in bold strokes, then scraped at his body and squatted as if holding a heavy burden. The other three dancers watched from the wings - under the columns that surround the stage and separate it from the audience. As Rogers staggered across the stage in increasing agony, Ingle and Jones came to his aid, the trio forming a fountain of arms, Rogers no longer alone.
Although the individual dancing was strong, it didn’t provoke or move the way the group did as a foursome. O’Connor used the four bodies in messages of community, creating physical connections and body architectures that were the most visually arresting of his images. As the four faced the audience in an early scene, they smiled and softly conversed with each other. Matter-of-factly, one dancer was nibbled on by two others, or lightly pawed, but the conversation continued, and the group shifted roles – the speaker, the watcher, the acolytes. Often, the dancers seemed to guard one another, as after Monoghan’s regal solo parade, when Ingle and Jones lifted him up and over Rogers’ shoulder and back in a protective gesture. That coupling dissolved, though, as Rogers and Ingle broke off into a tender duet.
The paired sexual scenes throughout the piece were not surprising – two couples making out; later two different pairings rolling on the ground in suggestive duets – and, just as unsurprising, they weren’t particularly moving. O’Connor did much better when he let the movement speak for the attraction among the men, where well-executed lifts and thighs curved around backs spoke eloquently about the magnetism and the difference of male love. After 30 years of choreographing, O’Connor should trust his ability to transmit those messages without the hammer of sexual vocabulary.
In addition to their physical couplings and quadruplings, the themes of gay strength and pressure came through most powerfully in the facial expressions of these cover boys. In a scene that mimicked a model’s catwalk, each of the four paraded toward the audience with wide smiling faces, only to arrive and have those smiles melt into blank, hidden stares. That juxtaposition – wide smiles that turned to stares or pouts - tuned the audience in and out, engaging then setting us loose. Each dancer’s smile beamed so believably, that the reminder of the alienation behind it was like a needle, pricking through to consciousness if the audience started to respond to the shining faces.
The set, designed by Aptum Architecture (Roger Hubeli and Julie Larsen,) was a roof that angled over the wide, deep stage of St. Mark’s Church, the structure a cross between a car grill and a pair of wings. It was an architectural layer of protection for the dancers, cut with square windows that sometimes let the light through in dappled shadows. The score, by James Baker, was dappled, too, mixing electronic murmurs, occasional pop tunes, and the humming dancers who chanted in four part harmonies like young, gay monks. These young men were safe in numbers, as friends, lovers, protectors; they validated one another. All so beautiful, they were more than cover boys, but the experience of needing cover was never far from the surface.
copyright © 2011 by Martha Sherman
Photos by Julieta Cervantes
Top: Michael Ingle, Niall Jones, Paul Monaghan, Matthew Rogers in “Cover Boy”
Bottom: Niall Jones, Paul Monaghan, Matthew Rogers, Michael Ingle in “Cover Boy”