Wallflower Blooms in a Loving Crowd

By Anna Kisselgoff

December 15, 2001

''As Natural As Breathing,'' Doug Varone's bouncy, stylish new work, is set to pop songs and jazz recordings. Had it come at the end rather than the middle of Wednesday's program by Doug Varone and Dancers at the Joyce Theater, it would have been dessert after a full meal.

''As Natural'' is feel-good entertainment with humor in the dancers' sinews. There is also insight in a fantasy sequence when Mr. Varone imagines a series of lovers who dispel his wallflower dejection. This touch of introspection makes the work a light gloss on Mr. Varone's more typical darker pieces.

As a company, Doug Varone and Dancers has acquired a remarkable homogeneous style. The movement is rooted in fluid shifts of weight, one image merging into another. The emotional impact is cumulative, comparable to feelings that become increasingly intense.

''Possession,'' which Mr. Varone set to Philip Glass's Concerto for Violin and Orchestra, opened the program. It is a haunting, intricate study of relationships, focused on two couples within a community. The evening ended with the recent ''Ballet Mécanique.'' Wendall K. Harrington's projected photographs make her contribution an integral element in a spectacular work.

''As Natural as Breathing'' begins with the dancers in Liz Prince's brightly colored leisure wear, clustered and then scattering across the floor like marbles. Recordings by Joey DeFrancesco, Art Neville, G. Parks and Roscoe Gordon provide changes in jazzy rhythms as the group breaks into playful encounters.

One dancer pushes against a wall of three bodies. Suddenly the yanks and pulls often found in Varone choreography are transformed into the yanks and pulls of stylized jitterbugging. Mr. Varone does a superb job of abstracting the Lindy Hop, evoking its essence without literally imitating any social dance. Larry Hahn, a big man with fast footwork, stands out here as he wraps John Beasant III around his hip.

Patterns set the mood. Mr. Varone's favorite movements (karate kicks, deep pliés, head rotations) are absorbed into group formations that turn into huddles, lines and chains. It all ends up as a picture of young people relating to one another.

The odd man out is Mr. Varone, whose lament, initially a solo to a bluesy saxaphone, suggests a man dancing in his living room. Shoulders hunched, arms swatting, he is a forlorn figure trying to act hip with sudden swiveling turns. The punch line is comically poignant. Women, then men, enter and take turns loving him. They throw themselves down on his body or lie beside it. One man passes up the opportunity, seemingly to Mr. Varone's relief. But the search for acceptance is graphically defined.

Mr. Varone snaps his fingers, and the lights go out. The dream ends, and the finale, lighted stunningly in green by David Ferri, is a celebration: part disco, part prom. A dancer flips over the heads of the group as the music ends with a whoosh and the audience roars.

''As Natural as Breathing'' reaches deep into the well of loneliness with a light touch. The finely tuned cast includes Daniel Charon, Natalie Desch, Faye Driscoll, Adriane Fang, Ashley Gilbert and Eddie Taketa.