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Doug Varone & Dancers 30th Anniversary Tour Stop in Philadelphia a Memorable One

by Lewis J Whittington
January 25, 2017
Prince Theater
1412 Chestnut Street
Philadelphia, PA 19102
(215) 422-4580
Choreographer Doug Varone stood in front of his Philadelphia audience to thank NextMove artistic director Randy Swartz for his continuing support spanning thirty years first when Varone was a dancing and later in presenting his troupe Doug Varone and Dancers to Philly audiences.

Varone is premiering new pieces on the company’s current 30th anniversary tour, as well as reviving company favorites. Their appearances after a nearly a decade absence at the NextMove series, Jan. 18-22, 2017 at the Prince Theater, was an opportunity to rediscover Varone's company and his works.

Varone's distinct choreographic style was represented in different ways in the three works on the January 21 program that gave an up close look at the versatile technique of Varone's young troupe.

“Possession,” choreographed in 1994 to Philip Glass’ driving "Concerto for Violin and Orchestra" was choreographically vintage Varone. As the curtain went up, dancers in satin-belted tunics were in perpetual motion emulating Glass’ musical template.

The lyrical and sometimes punch-drunk looking movement that careened into tight unison configurations, never lost its dramatic choreographic arc. Varone laced in jumpy balletics and signature modernist turns with dancers flopping to the floor. Cryptic hand calligraphy by two dancers enhanced a sensual duet as a distant mise-en-scene trio illuminated the back of the stage. Varone's dancers performed this piece with immediacy and precision, even where it was meant to look jagged along the edges.

The dancers characterized the lead violin lines and the counterpoint sub-streams of Glass' music, while dramatic scenarios unfolded. The central one, based on an actual incident between two male-female couples, played out as each having same sex affairs with the other's partners. Dancers Xan Burley and Colin Stillwell along with Alex Springer and Haiao-Jou Tang were an altogether hypnotic quartet. Varone’s depiction was choreographed with intimate and poetic drama.

Next, Varone’s 2016 duet “Folded” was danced by Hollis Bartlett and Alex Springer (It was also performed by Xan Burley and Haiao-Jou Tang in other performances dancing it as a women's duet). Set to a brassy, rock percussive score by Pulitzer Prize-winning composer and Bang on the Can co-founder Julia Wolfe, Varone's choreography was ponderous up front, but as the music became more concussive, the dancers knocked each other around in an almost ritualistic way. Under slashing smoke shades hanging over them, the dancers wrestled creating a sweaty atmospheric. The rhythmic tension between Bartlett and Springer could be interpreted as best friends, brothers, lovers or merely two men dancing together without relationship implications. At duet's end they came to the edge of the stage and furiously shook their heads; a humorous yet mysterious effect.

Varone's “Recomposed,” made in 2015, is scored to Michael Gordon's menacingly titled composition "Dystopia," which conjures the potential for bleakness, but Gordon’s symphonic electronica and Varone’s choreography paints, literally, a much brighter movement picture. The visual template was inspired by the artwork, indeed the brushstrokes of abstract expressionist artist Joan Mitchell.

Reid Bartelme and Harriet Jung ingenious costumes - gauzy body gloves over unitards - looked puzzling but they had a purpose in their form and function. The first movement of the work climaxed with the dancers collapsed on the floor. The dynamic Whitney Dufrene then dropping a gauzy layer, was revealed in a black unitard with a primary red stripe. Following her lead, at different times the other dancers shed their outer layer, each revealing a unitard with a different color stripe.

As he did so effectively with the Glass score, Varone capitalized on a musical thread or progression in Gordon's music that choreographically took the work in different directions. It was thrilling and kept building in intensity with the last group section, teeming with swirling and pivoting hops or careening group clusters.

Limbs slashed through the air as the ensemble percolated around the stage in sculptural clusters and group mayhem. By the end of this full throttle work, the dancers did seem to flag a bit in their performance, but for this troupe and for Varone, it was all part of a gushing, relentless stream of liberated dance and creative horizons.
Aya Wilson and Ryan Yamauchi in Doug Varone's 'ReComposed.'

Aya Wilson and Ryan Yamauchi in Doug Varone's "ReComposed."

Photo © & courtesy of Grant Halverson


Dancers in Doug Varone's 'Possession.'

Dancers in Doug Varone's "Possession."

Photo © & courtesy of Erin Baiano

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