Doug Varone and Dancers - Photo by Phil Knott
Long-time Village Voice dance critic Deborah Jowitt once described choreographer Doug Varone's work using metaphors from the natural world
Doug Varone's works sometimes make me think of small rivers on long journeys—rivers that flow serenely, curve to evade an obstacle, glance off a stone, suddenly burst into a waterfall. That's how the luscious torrent of movement he conceived is shaped and how his dancers behave with one another. Except that they're human beings, not running water, and they choose their courses. Who wouldn't like to move through life the way they travel on and off the stage—fluidly, resiliently, and confident that if they fall, they will be caught?
For 24 years, Varone has been making dances that course like those lively streams: dances shaped by seemingly random incident, carrying along natural materials, the detritus of life lived and discarded, the depths churned up to mud and then running clear again.
Doug Varone and Dancers are here at the Bates Dance Festival for the company's sixth creative residency since 1992, with the choreographer and his dancers teaching modern technique, repertory and composition. Throughout that time, Varone has been in demand as a director and choreographer of concert dance, opera, theatre, film and even fashion shows. Tonight's performance brings together two of the company's popular repertory works and introduces a dance that early this summer was still settling into its final form, a stream continuing to find its way.
Varone calls the two dances he created in 2006, Boats Leaving and Lux, "sister dances."
Boats Leaving is a very internal work, a dance Varone says is about departure on many levels. For years he had been clipping images out of the New York Times: photographs from the news, sports, and business sections, advertisements, anything that he felt implied a story. For Boats Leaving Varone de-contextualized and staged more than 60 of those images. The dancers' abstract re-enactments combine to map a storyboard that, while it skirts conventional theatrical narrative, still seems to convey struggle and longing. The accompanying score, the rich treble church harmonics of Arvo Paert's Te Deum, amplifies the elegiac ambience.
Lux, created only six months after Boats Leaving, couldn't be more its opposite. Optimistic and "dancey," its energy spills over with easy exuberance. From the opening solo, one Varone usually takes himself, the dancing revs itself up and outward, the performer gesturing as if writing an invocation on the air. Running backward, tumbling forward, Varone's choreography is an almost frictionless bounding and rebounding where the dancers rarely stop for a pose -- or even breathe.
The outpouring of movement in Lux is part and parcel of its creation. Startlingly, Varone says that he created the first seventeen minutes of this 21 minute work in a mere four and a half days during a creative residency in Santa Barbara, California. Set to Philip Glass' cycling Light, Lux is attended by the slow rise of a glowing full moon on the horizon that seems to be passing through a cloudless summer night.
The new, ink-still-wet-on-the-page dance on tonight's program has the intriguing title Chapters from a Broken Novel. Doug Varone has a habit of jotting snatches of conversation he overhears on the street, lines from literature and film and the maxims folded into fortune cookies into his notebooks. "These are fragments of thoughts that conjure an evocative sense of mystery in my imagination," he explains. The result is a dance/book in 34 "chapters" that Varone has envisioned as a work that can do double duty. Chapters may read as an evening-long work or be excerpted for the type of repertory program being presented here at Bates.
So tonight's program stands as a varied, mini-retrospective of the routes Doug Varone and Dancers have taken since the company's last appearance here in 2003. The stream digs more deeply into its banks, carries along more shiny surprises. With it, Doug Varone leads his audiences into new territory.
© 2010 Debra Cash