Associated Press



Doug Varone reminds what dance can do with world premiere of 'Castles'

By Claudia La Rocco



February 5, 2004

NEW YORK (AP) -- Doug Varone and his dancers command attention as soon as the curtain goes up at the Joyce Theater.

There's no looking away from such explosive but subtle works as "Castles," which premiered Tuesday night. Set to Prokofiev's "Waltz Suite, Opus 110," the dance, with its nuanced relationships, sweeps through six sections.

The choreographer makes full use of his dancers' technical prowess and individuality. Like children creating new games, they are joyous but deadly serious. The sense of play and discovery is enhanced by Liz Prince's red-trimmed capris and clingy tunics and Jane Cox's and Joshua Epstein's columns of light.

The delicate but steely Adriane Fang is riveting throughout, and John Beasant III and Daniel Charon are sublime in the second waltz. Both tender and rough, they clasp arms, slap buttocks and curl around each others' out-flung limbs, easing their way around and into desire.

Rarely do you find a choreographer so dedicated to the full and generous complexity of the human spirit. Many choreographers can create interesting movement; few can make it mean so much.

The five-minute duet "Short Story" is infused with more honest emotion than can be found in most evening-length works. Danced to Rachmaninoff by Varone and veteran Nina Watt, it captures that particular hell inhabited by two people whose love staggers under self-inflicted wounds.

At the beginning of the dance, Varone stands with hands on hips, contemplating Watt. She writhes and twists in and out of his grasp, unable to fully resist or give in to his need for control. Sultry and sorrowful, the duet belies the silly notion that sex appeal diminishes with age.

The unrealized violence of "Short Story" is unleashed in "Of the Earth Far Below," a brawl of a dance set to Steve Reich's "Triple Quartet." Hasty alliances break down as dancers throw themselves at each other and the floor, brawny arms collapsing and torsos slumping with the force of sudden weight shifts.

They hit the floor hard. And when they move, they mean it -- none of this contrived, "dancerly" running nonsense. When the music slows and Roma Flowers' ruthless light softens, everyone lies stunned. They cling to each other, but the respite doesn't last long. Soon enough they're back to their old tricks, arms wind-milling and legs lashing out in striking extensions as they fight each other and themselves.

Varone ends with 1993's "Rise," a surging tour de force set to John Adams' "Fearful Symmetries" that the choreographer describes as his "before and after piece." Four couples separate and rejoin, throwing themselves across and above the stage with such force that they seem about to career off it.

The lights cut off midstream, but Varone isn't done with us yet. A spotlight floods center stage with hazy light. As Adams' quiet coda unfolds, the dancers move through the light then scatter over the darkened stage, resolute individuals staring down a breathless audience.

Doug Varone and Dancers performs at the Joyce through Feb. 8.


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