Saturday, July 6, 2002

takes center stage



Three weeks ago the work of Doug Varone was on view at the American Dance Festival with his homage to the Wright Brothers commissioned by the Dayton Contemporary Dance Company. On Thursday night he brought his own company to the festival, and with it the buzz-laden "Ballet Mécanique," which premiered at Jacob's Pillow dance festival last summer and is set to a score by the same name by George Antheil, written in 1926.

Both works are tours de force, in totally different ways. In "The Beating of Wings," a white-clad dancer represents flight and reverses the usual notion of discovery. It's a touching drama in which the dancer again and again, in different sets of gestures, tries to help the brothers to unlock her secrets; in which Flight is portrayed as passionately engaged in the process, wanting the humans to succeed.

Again and again the brothers attempt to get aloft as she tries to climb the air. Again and again, she crashes back to earth. In a series of aching gestures, she takes their hands and places them on her forehead, on other parts of her body, asking them to absorb her essence.

In these gestures of Flight's frustration, there are suggestions of unfulfilled female longing and the attempts all women make to unlock the understanding of men. The shimmering finale is powerful and simple, filled with overtones of resurrection as the young women in white rises into the air, released.

On Thursday Varone brought his own company to the stage at Page Auditorium, and "Ballet Mécanique" was worth the wait.

Dancers in industrial blue jumpsuits move to the Antheil score, which would be difficult to listen to on its own. Here the combination of movement, light and sound make for a perfect, scary and eventually uplifting whole. The music is made up of percussive, rhythmic piano, sirens, bells and what sounds like the roar of an old-fashioned airplane engine. David Ferri's light projections with images of cogs, scientific formulas, geometric patterns and industrial machinery, are full players.

And the dancing! Varone is utterly true to the piece's title. It is mechanical and balletic, taking the architectural conventions of classical dance and giving them an industrial gloss, the movements mechanistic and poetic. Through-out the work, the dancers veer between order and chaos, Varone's imagination scattering them in random patterns, then regrouping them, playing with the tension between the humane and the impersonal, between fear and exhilaration. Eddie Taketa, Adriane Fang and Daniel Charon were particularly arresting.

It's an utterly absorbing work that never loses its pace, the best piece of pure choreography to be seen at ADF so far.