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Doug Varone and Dancers: Spring 2017 Season

The audience cheered the perpetual motion, high energy performances of the dancers, as well they should have.

Aya Wilson and Hollis Bartlett in Doug Varone’s “Possession” (Photo credit: Robert Altman)

Joel Benjamin

Joel Benjamin, Critic

As I was leaving the BAM Harvey Theater after one of Doug Varone and Dancers’ 30th Anniversary performances, I overheard two older gentlemen critiquing the show.  The first asked the second what he thought.  The second said, “A lot of movement.”  They both agreed and exited.

Exactly my opinion: a lot of movement—but signifying what?

After thirty years as an artistic director, Varone seems to have settled into a formula for constructing his works using a decidedly limited vocabulary and an off-handed movement style performed by a company of nine extremely dedicated dancers.  Despite working with wildly different scores, themes, costume and lighting designs, the similarities between the three works on his BAM Harvey program were more evident than the disparities.  There were, of course, some memorable moments.

Varone employs movements loosely flung out from the body’s core; sudden, inexplicable pauses; (painful looking) drops to the floor (usually onto a knee!); contrasting chaotic activities with stillness, high with low and slow with fast.  There is a sense—clearly mistaken—that the choreography is improvised which makes for unfocused and nervous stage pictures.  The fact that his dancers, a diverse bunch, wear his movement style like a second skin adds an excitement to his ballets.  They seem born to his particular style and give it an offhanded grace, looking more like people moving rather than dancers.

“Possession,” to Philip Glass’ beautiful Violin Concerto, was performed in three movements, the first using the entire cast of eight who gradually revealed Varone’s movement palette and his choreographic technique.  Dressed in Lynne Steincamp’s loose, pale costumes, the cast, at first spread across the stage, began to coalesce into small groups that suddenly moved in unison.  They twisted upper torsos, jabbed arms, kneeled, crawled, kicked and dropped to the floor.  The second and third movements each used four dancers and were more interesting to watch. Varone delved into partnering that illuminated inner emotional states, mostly dark. At one point a couple that alternated fighting with tenderness were watched by the other couple standing eerily still.  The effect was sad, aided by David Ferri’s moody lighting.

Hollis Bartlett and Alex Springer in Doug Varone’s “Folded” (Photo credit: Erin Baiano)

“Folded,” a New York City premiere to Julia Wolfe’s “Believing,” was a same-sex duet, here performed by two men, Hollis Bartlett and Alex Springer, who alternate with a female cast.  “Folded” was more about friendship and support with only hints of sensuality in some long-held embraces and upside-down lifts.  The two men moved away from each other, their paths sometimes crossing.  They boxed and wrestled, wearing Liz Prince’s chic black outfits, lit by David Grill’s shadowy lights.

A scene from Varone’s “ReComposed” (Photo credit: Erin Baiano)

The final work was another New York City premiere, “ReComposed” to a score by Michael Gordon called “Dystopia” that ranged from adventure film soundtrack music to circus tunes, calliope sounds and even some low, disorganized rumblings.  The salient elements were the lighting design of Robert Wierzel which favored single colors washing the stage and the adjustable costumes by Reid Bartelme and Harriet Jung which were covered in a removable layer of translucent material that, when stripped, revealed black unitards with wide vertical stripes in primary colors.

Even though “ReComposed” introduced some bigger jumps and leaps as the dancers crisscrossed the stage and formed ephemeral sculptural groupings, the salient impression “ReComposed” left was its lighting, which says a lot about the choreography.

The audience cheered the perpetual motion, high energy performances of the dancers, as well they should have.  For the record they were Hollis Bartlett, Jake Bone, Xan Burley, Whitney Dufrene, Alex Springer, Colin Stilwell, Hsiao-Jou Tang, Aya Wilson and Ryan Yamauchi.

Doug Varone and Dancers (March 29 – April 1, 2017)

BAM Harvey Theater, 651 Fulton Street, in Brooklyn

For tickets, call 718-636-4100 or visit http://www.BAM.org

For more information, visit http://www.dougvaroneanddancers.org

Running time: 95 minutes including one intermission

Joel Benjamin
About Joel Benjamin (206 Articles)
JOEL BENJAMIN was a child performer on Broadway and danced with leading modern dance and ballet companies. Joel has been attending theater, ballet and opera performances ever since childhood, becoming quite opinionated over the years. He was the founder and artistic director of the American Chamber Ballet and subsequently was massage therapist to the stars before becoming a reviewer and memoirist. He is a member of the Outer Critics Circle.

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