Newsday - New York City

Exhaustive Exhilaration

By Sylviane Gold

February 7, 2004

You've heard of sympathetic illness, in which a healthy person exhibits the symptoms of a sick friend or relative? Anyone venturing into the Joyce Theater tonight or tomorrow - and dance- lovers of all stripes should make it a point - runs the risk of sympathetic exhaustion, as the amazing members of Doug Varone and Dancers slash and dive and tumble through Varone's whirlwind choreography.

There are a few breaks, yes. "Short Story," danced with moving intensity by Varone and guest artist Nina Watt, unfolds slowly, painstakingly dissecting the shifting, fugitive gestures of an intimate relationship. And the longer, full-company pieces have brief intervals in which the mood and music slow down enough to let the dancers - and the audience - breathe for a moment. But basically, once the company takes the stage for the opening piece, last year's "Of the Earth Far Below," you're inside a tornado that doesn't let up.

Wearing Liz Prince's minimal black outfits, the eight dancers are swept into clusters and then ripped apart by the gusts of Steve Reich's Triple Quartet. Varone, who grew up in Syosset, is one of the few contemporary choreographers with a distinct dance language, and he often employs more or less the same structural strategies. The rushing waves of dancers, swelling and subsiding, coalescing and scattering, that make "Of the Earth Far Below" so compelling also appear in Varone's new work, "Castles," and in "Rise," the brilliant, churning 1993 piece to John Adams that closes the program. Yet they all look and feel different.

Partly that's a credit to Varone's array of designers. Mostly it's the result of the remarkable way he gets inside each piece of music that he uses. For "Castles," the dancers wear Liz Prince's bias-cut tunics and wide-leg pants in shades of red and beige. They move within an architecture of lights designed by Jane Cox and Joshua Epstein, in front of changing projections of grillwork. But the main reason it doesn't feel repetitive after "Of the Earth Far Below" is that its choreography, full of balletic accents and unison passages, reflects the lushly romantic Prokofiev waltzes that provide the score.

The most striking of its six sections is the second, in which John Beasant III and Daniel Charon move from the rump-slapping, chest-thumping horseplay of the locker room to the delirious, ecstatic lifts and embraces that, in dance-speak, represent full-blown passion. When the music ebbs, they return to earth, and Charon makes like he's adjusting his tie in a mirror.

Beasant and Charon are hardly alone in their virtuosity. This is a company of master dancers, performing masterly choreography. We can all rest next week.