Doug Varone and Dancers in NEO

Submitted by Susan Miller on Tue, 08/26/2008 - 11:36.
10/04/2008 - 20:00
10/04/2008 - 22:00

image from Varone's Dense Terrain

Image from Varone's Dense Terrain

Doug Varone and Dancers will perform the

World Premiere of Alchemy, set to Steve Reich's The Daniel Variations

(click on alchemy)

Some may recall the love affair Cleveland had with Doug Varone's work beginning with The Bench Quartet, then Care, then Motet, then Aperture - all part of the rep at The Repertory Project. Certainly our former audiences will flock to see this work in Akron. Talented and unstoppable - Doug has a movement vocabulary that will make you astonished at how many ways a body can be expressive with even the slightest gesture or a burst of movement that will literally take your breath away.

Strongly recommended. Predicted to be well worth the $18 ticket price and the drive to Akron.

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I am looking forward to seeing this.

hynde in sight

Vegiterranean beforehand?

oh yeaaaah! I'm in

I'm definitely down for a visit to Chrissie's new venture and reading the menu made me hungry. Let's make a plan to drive down together and make a night of it in the polymer city.

OOOOW! I haven't made a visit to EJ Thomas Hall in over a decade! Old times, new dances, new food.

Varone lays out a physical feast and a new work that gives pause

When was it that I first heard the term “juicy” in relation to a dance movement? Oh, yes, it was Douglas Nielsen – probably the late 1980s – in a class at Cleveland State University, he called for “juicy pliés” (plié means to bend – usually meaning the legs in dance). He was asking for a sort of fullness – fullness that you can see in extraordinary dancers as they give their all to the movement. Juicy – luscious, delicious, delectable – that’s the way Doug Varone moves and his dancers do, too. The meals are varied, the tastes surprising, but each morsel whether it’s a huge slashing traveling phrase on the diagonal, or the turn of a wrist is alive with “juice”.

Doug Varone’s dancers move from their fluids: We know this because the small movements which demand our attention, those that pull us in to focus on a small gesture: They are not external, but rather are happening deep in the joint, the lymph, the blood – they’re initiated somewhere deep inside that body. In the small gestural movement it’s as though you can hear the internal dialogue that’s producing them – maybe not the words or the meaning, but that the wrist, the ankle, the neck are speaking, pondering, traveling a flight of fancy. Then dancers connect – as a friend who was seeing Varone’s dancers for the first time said “there’s a lot of pushing and shoving going on up there”. Ah, he’s seeing the influence of “contact improvisation”, I thought. Yes – we interact as humans, we bump, push, wheel past, ignore, dive under other individuals on dance stages. For some who have become accustomed to the standard lifts and tricks of the ballet vocabulary, last night must have been an eye opener. One of my favorite themes of last night’s partnering was a perch (this was gender neutral partnering – men on women, women on men) when a dancer quickly jumped onto another standing figure, holding on with the arms, but also pulling up the feet to press them on the hips of thighs of their partner as in climbing a tree. There were also the small lifts, the slight assists – not “ta da” moments, but small interactions that passed by as casually as an affectionate hand on the shoulder of a loved one - lingering only for a second, just a reminder of a larger edifice of appreciation and tenderness.

But Varone’s work is not only gesture. Those brief, slight interactions build to massive proportions. They begin as one brick and become as dazzlingly monumental and thrilling as skyscrapers.

My friend said the first piece on the program, Tomorrow, was “restrained”. Well externally, in movement terms, it may have been. It did not have the hurtling climaxes of Lux (the second work on the evening’s program), but it had its own climaxes – those deep in the body and deep in the spaces between the dancers. Set to a score by Reynaldo Hahn, the work resembled a lullaby with rest at its end. The dancers moved as smoothly as kid leather, as voluminously as true silk velvet: Draping luxuriously on each other and on the space, the dancers combined at one point to offer a glimpse of a classical frieze. Limbs yawned into space taking spines with them. At one point, a dancer rises casually from the floor and springs crisply to perch onto the standing figure next to her; then she turns and melts toward him in an embrace. That moment was as deliciously simple and gourmet as a crisp just-picked fall apple dipped in warm caramel.

In Lux, the second offering, the curtain rose on one dancer center stage with a soft orangey yellow orb projected low on the cyc behind him. As he carved the space, his black costume defining the deepening blackness, he was joined by more and more bodies. Music is Varone’s impetus so often. He’s potentially the Balanchine of our time in the way that he hears, redefines, uncovers, reveals a score and Lux is no exception. I often wonder if composers know as much about their compositions before Varone begins to define these scores in space - with bodies. Don’t get me wrong, here; this is not music visualization. It’s much much more. I always knew more about a piece of music after seeing Doug’s movement set to it. It’s a new arrangement, another orchestration of the work. As the orangey yellow orb (a tiny harvest moon?) rises slowly, imperceptibly in the background, the stage is filled with swinging limbs, falling and recovering bodies, intertwining and extricating themselves, hurtling through the space, assisting each other in building teeming communities of complex movement – complicated abstract canvases that evaporate and leave the central figure alone again on stage to begin again. At one point, during this building and deconstruction process, two couples enter from stage right heralded by the entry of horns. We could feel the audience gasp. Again and again we felt awed air rush into the lungs of the onlookers as movement was layered on and stripped away while the orange/yellow orb was rising up the backdrop. The view opens to a wide angle and returns to an individual portrait. Quick turns of the head, flicking limbs and faster-than-the-speed-of-light footwork contrasts broad swaths of tumbling, circling, swinging momentum both in the body and in the space. I would have asked the sound technician to elevate the volume to Philip Glass performance levels, but that’s just me. As it was, the dancing managed to blast me out of my seat.

The much anticipated premiere Alchemy inhabited the entire second half of the program. With a backdrop of a magnified brick wall, the tone was somber. Set to the Steve Reich work Daniel Variations, “which juxtaposes text from the biblical Book of Daniel and the words of Daniel Pearl, the American journalist kidnapped and murdered by Islamist extremists in Pakistan in 2002.” The program note further explains, “Reich’s music pays homage to all victims who, in the face of violence and cruelty, courageously reveal the dignity and beauty of humanity.” Cowering and wrenching, hard-edged, effortful movement performed by men dressed in drab clothing - the hopelessness and fatigue of these scenes was pointed up by the effective lighting of the massive brick and mortar backdrop. In striking contrast, while the men struggled against gravity deftly rising ever again, women in bluebird blue, royal blue and sky blue attire danced with the lightness of flight, ascendance conveying a slice of open sky, the possibility of freedom in the face of persecution and warring. In case you don’t recall the “handwriting on the wall” in The Book of Daniel, at Belshazzar’s Feast – “God has numbered the days of your kingdom and brought it to an end; you have been weighed in the balances and found wanting; your kingdom is divided and given to the Medes and Persians." In Varone’s physical rendering of Reich’s Daniel Variations, we need no such disembodied hand to see the writing on the wall. That cruel leaders, too, are dispensed as they have dispensed with the innocent, is the ray of hope for religious freedom and freedom from the materialism which has revisited upon us this prophecy from so long ago. The work’s end sends a powerful message – do not turn away, face the wall, and read the writing there on: Only in this way through recognition and truth can a new day be born. The abrupt end of the work left us holding that personal responsibility. Stunned, we left the theater, carrying both the lightness and buoyancy of the opening works as well as a pearl of a dance parable. Varone and Dancers had delivered a wake-up call, swathed in courage and hope, but sober nonetheless.

(Full disclosure: Doug Varone’s work made its Northeast Ohio debut in the 1980s in the work The Bench Quartet staged by Christine Philion at Cleveland State University summerdance. I was the founder and director of that program. Subsequently, four of his works were selected by the dancers for performance over the years by the bygone Repertory Project – The Bench Quartet, Motet, Care, Aperture. I was the co-founder and director of that company.)