by Doug Varone
Choosing dancers to work with, either in the company setting or on special larger projects has always been a complicated venture. I am envious of the choreographers and directors that can choose artists to work with quickly. It seems more humane than the longer, extended periods that I need to make informed decisions. The work that I create and the method of discovery needed to reveal each dance is complex. So for me, the process of locating collaborators/interpreters/dancers of this world needs to take time and tremendous consideration. I am always asked how I choose dancers. Most particularly, what distinguishes one dancer from another in my mind? I am not sure that there is clear answer beyond instinct.
Subconsciously, I ask myself a list of questions when I am looking at dancers and considering working with them:
Are they comfortable in their bodies?
Can I see a person in their eyes?
How do they focus their vision when they dance?
Do they innately understand being inside the material instead of performing it?
Can they adapt to direction?
Is there maturity in their approach?
What is their imagination like?
Can they take material and transform it into their bodies? Into a moment? Into an idea?
Do they know things I don’t?
Are they musical?
Do they have a fast mind to learn and retain material?
How do they work with a group?
Can they handle the stage alone?
How do they manifest all of the above in their persona?
How does their presence (both as a dancer and as a person) affect the work?
How do they respond to other company members?
Will the addition of this dancer alter my creative world for the better?
Most importantly, what do I know about them as people? about their work ethic?
Are they truly interested in the work we create or are they just looking for a job?
For me, finding the right dancer is as much about chemistry as it is about their dancing. I hate having to compare artists and to pit them against each other.
It seems unnatural and the antithesis of our supportive work environment. Very often there are very small points that separate the choices I am drawn to when we are in audition mode. I do believe that there are traits that define a quintessential Varone dancer and this is always my defining point. There is an intuitive sense of understanding the type of work we create and the method of performing it that lacks pretense. Everything is based in the individual dancer’s abilities to be real human beings on stage, not performers. You can sense the dancer’s ease with the work and as a result the dance and the dancer become one. I abhor artifice, and am drawn to each dancer’s abilities to bring real aspects of their personalities into the work. I give them a great deal of liberty in order to locate this. It is more difficult than it sounds but tremendously liberating when it makes sense. I call it ‘being’ and when I locate dancers that understand the concept of ‘being’ rather than ‘performing, ’ I am drawn to them immediately. Through the workshops we teach (both our Summer and Winter intensives) and dances that we regularly stage on college dance departments or professional companies, I connect with dancers when I see this potential. I very rarely offer work to dancers I do not know or have never seen perform. My artistic brain just doesn’t function that way. Forging an artistic relationship with an artist prior to them joining the Company, gives me a greater understanding and a sense of confidence in how, over time, they will color the world we’ll create together.
I connected with all of the current company members in this way. Natalie Desch was in the Limón Company when I worked with her first. Ryan Corriston, Erin Owen, and Julia Burrer all participated in our Summer Workshops. Netta Yerushalmy was in a dance I created in at NYU. Several years later, she staged that same work for me at the University of Michigan and cast Alex Springer. As well, Ryan, Netta and Erin were all cast in my Met Opera productions of Les Troyens and Le Sacre du Printemps before joining the Company.
Very often, the timing might not be right for a dancer to join the group. Ryan, Erin, Natalie, Julia and Netta all auditioned previous times before they became Company members. - DV