Newsday - New York City

In a Whirlwind of Calm and Frenzy

By Sylviane Gold

December 13, 2002

The music a choreographer chooses can sometimes be as revealing as the dance that ends up accompanying it. Over the 15 years sinces he started his company, Doug Varone has set his dynamic, thrust-and-parry movement to pop and bel canto, Chopin and Philip Glass. But the richly varied program that opened the Doug Varone and Dancers season at the Joyce Tuesday night seemed to be about more than Varone's eclectic taste.

With two major new works for the full company and a revival of the 1989 duet "Care," it's a trip from the honeyed romanticism of the Brahms Piano Trio in B Major, Op. 8 to the riotous chords and blaring sirens of George Antheil's "Ballet Mecanique," with a brief stop in between for pure, unadulterated silence. In its extremes of calm and frenzy, hope and despair, the evening perfectly mirrors the emotional state we've been living in since Sept. 11.

The Brahms piece, "Approaching Something Higher," was created amid the aftermath, and its surging and subsiding waves of melting, stretching, whirling bodies suggest a community on a spiritual quest. With tendrils of movement unfurling from a central cluster of dancers who halt now and again to let a pair or a trio or a soloist break free, the piece fans across the stage suffused in Jane Cox's subtle, shifting play of pale light, which resolves itself into clouds, a misty tower, a golden wash of sunlight. It ends on an image of affirmation that earned a whoop of joy from the opening-night audience.

Varone finished "Ballet Mecanique" during the summer, and much has been written about the eerie resonance that now lurks in its pounding score, mazelike imagery and slicing, desperate movement. The dancers, in vivid blue jumpsuits, appear to be trapped in a swirling cage of mostly abstract, mostely black-and-white projections by that visual wizard Wendall K. Harrington. Their moves, a more angular, more robotic version of Varone's usual vocabulary, have a regimented, driven quality ordained by the music. And the final moment, an amazing stunt that brings everything to a crashing end, hits you (and the dancers) in the gut.

Sandwiched between these large, overflowing works is the small, quietly devasting "Care," in which Larry Hahn is a cool, gentle nurturer to Varone's fearful, turbulent whirlwind. Set against the everyday backdrop of a sofa and a wall, using seemingly ordinary gestures, played in silence, it speakes as eloquently as its one-word title.

Varone is front and center, performing with a precision and focused energy that belies his 45 years. His eight dancers are pretty miraculous themselves, but Varone, working at the height of his powers as both dancer and dance maker, deserves an extra bow. And he gets it.