Friday, October 12, 2012

Doug Varone and Dancers: Dancing With Feeling

Doug Varone and Dancers perform Boats Leaving, among other offerings, in observance of their 25th anniversary at The Joyce.  Photo by Lissa Gotwals.

Doug Varone and Dancers celebrate their silver anniversary with a one-week season at The Joyce. In today's artistic and economic climate, twenty-five years deserves a fete.

If you've never seen Varone's choreography, you're in for a treat. Eschewing tense virtuosity and conceptual minimalism, he embraces an exuberant, informal movement expression that borders on impertinence. His dancers seem like big kids at play: wheeling, gamboling, and skipping across the stage, they extend a sweeping ebullience that embraces you in a warm hug of generosity, which belies their dexterity. It's irresistible.

Two programs alternate; each features a piece from the nineties, one from the aughts, and a new work. Program B, premiering on Wednesday night, strives to maintain a balance between Varone's signature, freewheeling choreography and selections that vary in emotional texture.

The program opens with Boats Leaving, which premiered in 2006, set to the contemplative stylings of composer Arvo Part. Eight dancers begin standing, scattered around the stage, suggestive of driftwood strewn about a sandy shore. Uncoiling as a reel of snapshots from a projector, the dancers form arresting but simple formations, more like visual art than dance choreography. Ragged diagonals disperse and reform, a frayed ellipse dissolves; these vivid spatial shapes underscore the sense of a community in peril. While the narrative never quite solidifies—the bare emotion on the dancers' faces suggests some type of distress—it still yanks you emotionally.

Able to Leap Tall Buildings
, spotlighting Erin Owen and Alex Springer, operates as a quirky, cryptic duet to Julia Wolfe’s “Cruel Sister”.  Wolfe’s creepy composition, like the score from a bipolar horror movie, accompanies jerky, stunted movements that intersperse with forays into relaxed, liberated gestures. It’s sinuous puppetry, convulsive, but with rounded edges. The hazy white light, filling the black box of the stage, gives Owen and Springer a freakish glow. At the end, when Owen clamors over a standing Springer, and the lights abruptly vanish, you may be glad that your visit to their edgy, obsessive netherworld is complete.

Varone closes Program B with an early work, Rise, which debuted in 1993. Four couples—attired in gem shades of sapphire, violet, jade, and garnet—canvass the stage with swirling leaps, open-armed dives to the floor, and surging turns. It's a wild, effusive folk dance to John Adams' irrepressibly bouncy score. The piece is long; it soon becomes a blurry, kaleidoscopic wash of color, movement, and music. Look for Julia Burrer, lanky and bendable like a rubber doll, she will enthrall you with her unencumbered insouciance. You should hold your applause when the dancers crash to what appears to be a culmination; it's only a fake-out. Reemerging two-by-two, the dancers engage in a short movement reprise, before ending, dotted about the stage, standing with their eyes closed.

It's not every choreographer that can end the way he begins, three pieces later, with his dancers, upright, littered across the stage, emotionally reverent. The circle closes.

Varone manages the near choreographic impossibility of being true to his unique movement vocabulary while investigating ideas of substance. You only wish for one thing – to join in. It’s delightful watching, but doing looks like so much more fun. 

This review refers to the show seen on Wednesday, October 10th at 7:30PM.

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