NextMove Dance presents Doug Varone and Dancers (second review)

Dance for the daring

Doug Varone and Dancers begin their performance with the evening’s most challenging piece: ReComposed, created in 2015 and danced to Michael Gordon’s 2007 symphonic Dystopia. Varone explained to the audience that he looked to the vibrant pastels of abstract expressionist Joan Mitchell for inspiration. Mitchell’s pastels are unquiet explosions of color that lighting designer Robert Wierzel has reflected in the backdrop’s lightbox colors, which change from purple to pink, orange, green, or blue. The dancers’ costumes, dark with bright streaks of color, are only gradually revealed from under the disguise of mesh overalls.

Doug Varone and Dancers perform 'ReComposed.' (Photo by Grant Halverson)

Urban symphony

This piece is driven by the music. Dystopia is a challenging work, blending brassy jazz tropes with a symphonic sensibility to create a frenetic aural picture of city life. Gordon has said that Dystopia expresses the pace of present-day Los Angeles, but Los Angeles is a city of automobiles, not a city on foot. Watching the dancers, I felt I was in New York City, navigating the crowded sidewalks of downtown Manhattan: too fast, too chaotic. Then, after a beautiful respite, a serene duet called to mind the slow dance of tai chi in a park’s quiet dawn.

More frantic coming together and separating followed, sometimes in pairs and sometimes as a group, huddled together while, for some incomprehensible reason, a dancer ran circles around them. A madwoman with red stripes snarled and lashed out with clawed hands, felled by a man with a blue stripe on a black leotard.

Mitchell’s pastels may have inspired Varone, but his dance reminded me more of Fernand Léger’s cityscapes. Even the costumes evoked the colorful linear structure of those hectic, crowded images celebrating the city as the complex, explosive machine of modernity. Like the works of Mitchell or Léger, ReComposed is not an easy piece to love, but rewards the daring audience.

Intimate battles

After a well-earned intermission, the second half begins with a new work, Folded, a duet performed by two male dancers: Hollis Bartlett and Alex Springer. Again, lighting sets the mood. This time, scattered light seems to come from a distance, as if the dance is being performed in a back alley. The dancers, dressed in jeans and loose casual shirts, seem at some moments to be brawling, and at others engaged in a more personal struggle that is at times intimate, a relationship built as much on anger and sorrow as anything else. The program says that two women in the company perform on some nights, and I wish I’d been able to see that. The men were very good, but the dance was a little too expected. I didn’t know what the effect would be with two women, so that pairing would perhaps have had something new to say.

In his introductory remarks, Varone said that Possession, created in 1994, evokes scenes from the A.S. Byatt novel by the same name in which two scholars, each studying a different Victorian poet, find romance as they discover that the subjects of their study had a passionate affair.

The dance is fortunate in its music. Phillip Glass’s Concerto for Violin and Orchestra builds momentum as two couples meet, hesitate, and come together in combinations that represent both the carnal interest of the scholars and poets for each other and the romantic intensity of the scholar for his or her subject. I am not sure what the costumes—pale, loose trousers over leggings, a Victorian poet defined by the peplum on her shirt—are meant to evoke.

Surprisingly, however, this was the most accessible of the three pieces. The audience does not have to know who the couples were or why, in a story about four people, there are occasionally eight dancers on the stage. The romance is palpable, actual steps and movements clear and comprehensible, and of course, the compelling repetition of the music, mounting in intensity, drives the dance to its climax.  

To read Merilyn Jackson's review, click here.

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