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Danspace Project at
St. Mark's Church, NYC
December 8–15, 2011
Performance reviewed: Dec. 13
There was something divine about this performance. Maybe it was the sense of enthrallment from the inching-along beginning to the elegiac end. Maybe it was the sly way it slid from sensuality to sexuality. Maybe it was the altered world of androgynous boys (or world of altar boys).
Cover Boy is more thematic than previous O’Connor works, which usually give scant clues as to what’s on the choreographer’s mind. It’s more playful, less urgent, more cohesive. Where before, in celebrated works like Frozen Mommy, one felt shards of emotion interrupting each other, here there’s one allover, if paradoxical, feeling. Cogency is gained at the expense of mystery. O’Connor may be cramping his style by having Cover Boy be “about” something, but the piece was a satisfying, if less “transparent” experience.
The four dancers—Michael Ingle, Niall Jones, Paul Monaghan, and Matthew Rogers—could almost be Isadorables. They even skip with the back curving and opening as in one of Isadora’s freedom-loving classic steps. But they are not free. They are negotiating between being cover boys, in the sense of being aware of appearances, and being covert boys, in the sense of keeping their gayness close to the chest. A motif of soft hands rising and curling at chest level recurred throughout.
Each of the four dancers is a striking individual. Paul Monaghan, with a mop of blond curls and a girlish body, could have stepped out of a pre-Raphaelite painting. Niall Jones, sturdier, wearing purple, is a blunt mover. Dark-haired Michael Ingle exudes a louche sense of irony. And wiry Matthew Rogers manages to be both bold and delicate. The costumes, a cross between street wear and dancewear assembled by Façade/Fasad, accentuate their individuality.
Michael Ingle, Mathew Rogers, and Paul Monaghan.
In one scene Monaghan is preoccupied by something in his eye while Ingle is being kissed by the other two. Eventually all four link together in a teasing tableau, reflecting the everydayness of attraction in gay circles. When the dancers look out at the audience, being good cover subjects (magazine directors are always carrying on about eye contact), Rogers looks out with a dare in his eyes.
In another scene the three other boys caress Rogers skin, working up to his neck. It’s pretty sexy until they start strangling him. Time and again, sex becomes either negligible or frightening. At one point they break into two pairs for serious make-out sessions. Then, all four suddenly push away from each other, with the same soft-hands motif as before, giving us a small shock.
Matthew Rogers emerges as the most at home in this culture of ambiguity (he’s danced for O’Connor for seven years while the others are new). As a performer, he is to O’Connor what Dominique Mercy is to Pina Bausch: a clear but wry illuminator of the choreographer’s work. Rogers has a terrific solo that mounts into a fluid tantrum with wild-animal cries coming from within.
The music, an original score by James Baker, knows just when to get sentimental. I was almost crying during the last duet between Rogers and Ingle. A sense of surrender, only hinted at earlier, plunges this duet into deeper territory.
The choreography didn’t contain phrases so much as actions. Each move, each shift was surprising, and yet true to the world these four have created. Cover Boy is not “pure” O’Connor, but it’s brave O’Connor.
Naill Jones, Paul Monaghan, Matthew Rogers, and Michael Ingle beneath Aptum Architecture's set.
All photos of Tere O'Connor's Cover Boy by Julieta Cervantes, courtesy Danspace. Dancers pictured at top: Michael Ingle, Niall Jones, Paul Monaghan, and Matthew Rogers.