A grand swirl of movement: Doug Varone and Dancers.
Mae G. Banner
Varone and Dancers
Egg, June 1
Dancers love to dive into Doug Varone’s choreography. They
call it lush, by which they mean Varone’s moves spool out
in unending loops and tangles, flaring across the stage or
jamming up in an unexpected corner, sometimes slowing down,
but never fully stopping.
You don’t see steps or clear-cut floor patterns in dances
like Castles (2004), which opened the Doug Varone and
Dancers’ concert at the Egg. Instead, the dance responds in
the largest way to Prokofiev’s astringent Cinderella
ballet waltzes, the eight dancers surging and subsiding to
the dynamics of the music, but never stepping note for note.
Varone wants you to feel the swells and twists of the music
more than tease out its inner voices. He works big, painting
a grand swirl of spiraling, jumping, or crouching bodies,
with a whiff of danger (that clock will strike 12, after all)
just beyond the exhilaration of the dance.
in six parts, included a forceful duet for Johan Beasant III
and Daniel Charon, punctuated with audible smacks when one
man gripped the other around the waist, then broke and dove
between his legs. A male-female duet for blonde, balletic
Natalie Desch and bushy-haired Kayvon Pourazar exuded cheek-to-cheek
But the full ensemble sections set the true tone of this strange
ball. Costumer Liz Prince added flourishes of red silk to
the edges of the men’s calf-length pants and the women’s overskirts,
so they flared at every lift and swing. These vertical lifts
and tilt-a-whirl swings could pop up anywhere, at any time,
adding color and surprise to the larger action.
Varone considers himself a choreographer of extremes. While
he likes to move crowds of people across the stage, he’s also
known for highly nuanced duets that read like short stories
by Raymond Carver. One of these is Home(1988), which
Varone danced with guest artist Peggy Baker. The two were
colleagues in the Lar Lubovitch Dance Company before Varone
founded his own company in 1986.
The inclusion of Home was an event because it brought
these two seasoned dancers together and because Varone, immersed
in making new work, scarcely dances these days. To see him
and Baker enact this conversation of gestures was to see into
the choreographer’s brain.
Two wooden chairs. Two people in black tops and pants. A tense,
choked call and response made from the merest indications
of intent: a look, a nod, a slight pressure of his hand on
her knee, her head turning away. Sometimes, one person’s movement
seems to go toward and away from the other in the same instant,
saying both yes and no.
She’s exasperated. He’s insistent. She splays her two hands
over her gut. He gets up and walks in a tight circle away
from her. You can almost hear one of them say, “We never talk.”
You know we’ve all been there.
The final work, Rise (1993), released the tension of
Home in whorls of centrifugal force. Set to John Adams’
jazzy Fearful Symmetries, Rise looks casual,
almost slumped, as loose-limbed androgynously costumed couples
swing out in a series of duets that grow into trios, then
clump together in larger groupings, gathering speed and force
until the whole thing climaxes in a crack-the-whip line and
splits again into little explosions in odd corners of the
The couples—Adriane Fang and Todd Williams in blue, Netta
Yerushalmy and Pourazar in purple, Desch and Charon in emerald
green, and Catherine Miller and Beasant in red—have absorbed
Varone’s way of moving into their own differently shaped bodies.
In Rise, they dance with a strong-backed, weighted
quality that says the earth is their magnet.
The choreographer is compactly built, not too tall. He never
fully stretches his dancers’ bodies, so that their jutting
arms and legs ray out at acute angles instead of huge extensions.
He likes to set people turning outward, but always turning
immediately in the opposite direction, even while traveling
across the stage. His lifts and jumps tend to be straight
up and cut short—not too high—and his landings are velvety,
making love to the floor.
Also, he gets off on twisting the group into snarls in which
the dancers, off-balance, grasp hands or legs, holding on
for dear life. A pull brings a dancer from kneeling to a treacherously
angled cantilever. A shift of weight leads to a dive or roll,
and a whole new group shape is born. Sometimes, gorgeously,
three people will step back, one by one, arch their backs
and raise one arm in rough unison, a sudden convergence of
The dynamism of Rise bursts into an applause-inducing
false ending, then decelerates. In the surprising, cooling
coda, each couple returns to repeat a bit of their duet under
a center spotlight on a darkened stage. Gently, a dancer tugs
another into the light to repeat previous moves, but on a
smaller scale, until, at the end, all eight stand spread across
the stage, facing us in a loosely-gathered, but quite aware
The Varone company is in residence through June 26 at Skidmore
College, Saratoga Springs. Daily rehearsals in the college’s
dance studios are open and free to observers. Free programs
at 7:30 PM Monday, June 21, and Friday, June 25, and at 4
PM Thursday, June 24, all in the Skidmore Dance Theater, will
show company repertory and a new work in progress to J.S.
Bach’s English Suites.