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Cecly Placenti, Artistic Director

  • Writer's pictureCecly Placenti

Spotlight Session: Bonnie O’Rourke

Updated: Dec 27, 2019

What are the Spotlight Sessions?

I was the child who asked “why” 150 times in a row, to the dismay and occasional annoyance of the adults around me. That curiosity and need for discovery grew with me and became a guide on my artistic path. Determination, inquisitiveness, and the drive to connect with others led me to write, dance, choreograph, produce, and educate.

I started my company, Six Degrees Dance, with the mission of creating community. Embodying the theory that all people are connected through a social network of 6 or fewer degrees, we collaborate in an environment where the exchange of ideas is the building block for innovation and growth.  We approach dance making with the belief that the contribution of the individual benefits the group, and results in a body of work reflective of the sum of its parts. 

To that end, we have developed several initiatives that connect artists with audiences and with each other, maintaining the idea of six degrees of separation as the foundation for those connections. Our annual showcase brings together national and international choreographers, most of whom have never met. Our Choreographic Commission series allows the dancers of Six Degrees to work with a variety of choreographers in different styles. In The Spotlight Sessions, I will present a different artist each cycle, and through interviews, short feature articles, previews, and capsule reviews, offer a behind the scenes look into their work and their process. I hope you enjoy getting to know these unique, talented individuals as much as I have, and continue to follow them on their creative paths. 

Photo by Mickey White

Bonnie O’Rourke is the founder and Artistic Director of BOM DIGGS.

After graduating from Grand Valley State University in 2013, Bonnie moved to NYC as a Marketing and Communications intern at Paul Taylor American Modern Dance. Since then, she has performed with companies and choreographers such as Shawnbibledanceco, Smashworks, Judi Jaekel & Artists, Rae-Ann Thomas, and CeDan. BOM DIGGS, in addition to self-producing concerts, has been seen performing at Shifting Movement Series, Pushing Progress, Fertile Ground, Sans Limites Movement Fest, Create: ART, 10 Minute Set and Performance Studio Open House.


1. How did your artistic journey begin?

I’m not sure it was necessarily a start, but I remember being at the gym in middle school or high school, playing music and completely zoning out and just seeing pieces of work being danced in front of me. I would see all this movement happening in my mind and wonder if it was possible to actually do it. I think that is what sparked my inspiration to create work- hearing music in movement form instead of just with my ears.

2. What is your drive as an artist? What is it that you hope to express or contribute to the world through dance?

My drive is storytelling. I love to tell stories, whether they are realistic or fantasy. A storyline makes sense to me and I don’t want to present work just for dance’s sake, although that can be done beautifully. But in order for me to create something, I need a string that goes through, a narrative to stay close to, so that it makes sense for me. I need to know where the storyline goes whether the audience does or not. I think we are never going to run out of stories. Whether they are old, traditional stories, or stories of today, there is always something to be inspired by and there can be good, bad, or indifferent endings. I want to keep making more and more stories. Recently I did a comedy piece about siblings and 3 different situations that siblings would find themselves in- fighting over the television, fighting over a boy, and fighting over getting to sit in the front seat of a car. Very simple but it had a beginning and an ending and that helped me understand the work and feel grounded in it.

3. What has been your biggest challenge and your proudest moment?

The biggest challenge is the business side of it all, understanding that I can create whatever I want and feel really free in what I do, but if I’m going to present something, I need to get butts in the seats and eyes in the audience! I also have a marketing and business background, so I appreciate that thought process, but it also affects my creativity. Sometimes I think I have to impress people, or make trailers that will draw non-dancers in as opposed to just friends and family and I get really bogged down in the numbers that may or may not have been hit from a performance, or the comments that happen after. It all affects me even if I don’t want it to. It’s hard because in a perfect world I’d have a full audience each time, but there is also the element that it is entertainment for other people so I want to make it worth their time.

My proudest moments are when the dancers I work with are enjoying the process just as much as I am. When it comes to performing, even if we have 0 people in the audience, if they are killing it and they are feeling proud of themselves and excited about what they are presenting, that drives me and fulfills me. When they are committed and there is something that drives them in your work, that they are doing their own research in it - that is the best experience.

Stephen Delas Heras

4. Describe your creative process.

My favorite part is the first two or three rehearsals. I call that the honeymoon phase where all we are doing is creating without any intention, just creating phrase work and research. It feels like it’s the least pressured rehearsals we can have. And I feel the most successful after them because the only task I have is to create things. After that I start to put together a storyline and piece different sections together. The last part is the music. I play around with a few different sound scores throughout the process and then solidify that at the very end.

5. What do you do when you are not creating? What activities or things inspire you to fill your creative well?

I always find myself most successful after I've taken a vacation somewhere that has zero to do with dance. Whether that is relaxing and visiting home in Michigan, taking a few days to chill out, or going on a legit vacation out of the country. Doing something that has nothing to do with dance brings me back to the brain space where I am able to concentrate and stay present in classes and rehearsals, and also cleanse my palette. When i don’t have the money or time to do that, I like to keep moving one way or another. I love to go hiking. Hiking is my absolute favorite thing. If I wasn’t a dancer I’d be living in the mountains right now. So just continuously moving without the intention of dancing, sometimes I then find myself yearning to dance. When I am so far away from it, sometimes the desire just naturally comes back which is a nice feeling. And just being out in nature I just feel so rested afterwards.

6. What are you up to currently?

I am presenting a duet in Showdown at Gibney on November 17. I am also planning to build an evening length piece in 2020 involving a large prop. I am applying to different residencies to be able to spend time working on that and researching with the dancers.


Behind the Scenes Look at “Pacers”

Choreography: Bonnie O’Rourke

Dancers- Judi Jaekel and Bonnie O’Rourke

Watching dancers Judi Jaekel and Bonnie O’Rourke engage in movement research for their duet “Pacers,” I am reminded of the unique ways dancing fosters relationship. There is something magical about breathing through the same motions with another person, finding common rhythm, being present to give and receive information. Vulnerable and exposed, seeking answers to movement puzzles and staying alert to possibilities, connections go deeper than verbal communication alone can provide.

Jaekel and O’Rourke rebound from the floor, legs and arms flicking as their bodies suspend for a moment before returning to the earth, and a sense of surrender permeates. Perhaps surrender to a force outside of them, perhaps surrender to the process or to each other, a cyclical rhythm emerges. Movements are punctuated by audible exhalations, hisses, and swooshing sounds as O’Rourke emphasizes the quality she is after. Jaekel says “I am going to think: around and then through” as she reinforces an arm pattern, and O’Rourke agrees. In this conversational way, move-talk, move-talk, they build “Pacers” together, finding the rhythm and timing inherent in the movement, accessing synchronicity as they meld their individual approaches. Grounded and free, their phrasing is marked by a very pleasing weightedness, a play between levity and gravity. As they keep pace with each other, their camaraderie is a testament to the intimacy fundamental in the act of moving with another person.

Want to experience what this unique relationship develops? See O’Rourke and Jaekel perform “Pacers” in Showdown at Gibney Dance Center on November 17 at 3:30. 280 Broadway.

Check out Bonnie’s third degree of Separation in January’s Spotlight Session!

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