DANCE REVIEW


Dancing
to a century
of alienation

By Sid Smith
Tribune arts critic


The pounding, driving, upsetting score for "Ballet Mecanique" could have been written yesterday.

Its harsh tones and relentless evocation of a world gone ga-ga over technology seem both an homage to composer John Cage and a commentary on our dry, dehumanized worship of progress. That it was written by George Antheil in 1926 and booed by premiere audiences only adds layers of irony and pathos to choreographer Doug Varone's already striking new creation boasting the same title.

The New York-based Varone, whose company performs through Saturday at he Dance Center of Columbia College, offers a searing, energetic and exhausting picture of contemporary urban life, punctuated by Antheil's recurrent use of a disturbingly loud emergency siren. It is a work by turns angry, driven and frightening, especially in its shattering final image.

By tying his work to a score from the past,
Varone seems to be summing up nearly a century's worth of alienation and social dysfunction. He's aided by Wendall K. Harrington's grim black-and-white designs, images projected at first on a transparent screen at the front of the stage and then in the rear; most notable a series of swirling , striped and animated vortexes.

Amid this scenery the eight dancers run, jump and whirl through space, as if in fear for their lives.

  SATURDAY, OCTOBER 6, 2001

Doug Varone and Dancers offer a searing, energetic and exhausting picture of contemporary urban life in "Ballet Mecanique"


Varone's movement is clean, pure and smoothly classical, gently hinting of ballet here and there. It's his sense of interplay, cluster and structure that unfolds so seamlessly to give his work both unity and surprise.

In the end, two dancers, a man and woman, run feverishly in place, in terror of the abstract goings-on, a couple fleeing urban disaster and an eerie echo of the tragic events of our time, though Varone unveiled this piece last summer.

Two earlier works complete the bill. "Possession" is both a 1994 response to the choreographically rich vein to be found in the music of Phillip Glass and a vivid abstract drama on connections and loss in romance. Some of the drama is simple, as when one dancer slowly leaves another in a wistful farewell, while some is beautifully complex, including one quartet in which Varone manages almost magically to provide every possible coupling, a true ménage a quatre.

"As Natural As Breathing," from last year, is a funny, light-hearted and jazzy affair, colored by Liz Prince's psychedelic costumes and Varone's quirky but stylish star turn, during which he's seduced, and pretty much abandoned, by all the other dancers.

Doug Varone and Dancers perform through Saturday at the Dance Center of Columbia College, 1306 S. Michigan Ave. Phone 312-344-8300.