A Knave of hearts
Doug Varone's work pulses with emotion

By Gia Kourlas

February 12-19, 1998

TimeOut
New York
 

I'm not an emotional person.

I am generally of the opinion that sniffling is for babies, so my confession is embarrassing: Doug Varone's work makes me cry. Not just during rehearsals and performances, but afterwards; images of his frantic, daring movement and flawless dancers constantly replay in my memory, eventually settling in for good. I think Varone's work has such a lasting effect on me for a simple reason-it's choreographed with heart. His dances are nonlinear works of art, rich in emotion but devoid of story. His movement triggers unexpected sensations-it almost hurts to watch choreography so beautiful. But if you do, you'll vicariously experience the thrill of dancing.

Varone, 41, has by his own account experienced slow but steady growth as a choreographer. He spent a year performing with the Limón Dance Company and eight years with the Lar Lubovitch Dance Company before forming his own group in 1987. This season's concert features three major premieres, as well as the little-seen 1994 piece Possession, which was inspired by the romantic A.S. Byatt novel of the same name. "I loved the way [the book] was written, with its swift changes of time and place," Varone says. "The novel dwells on images that are erased-a very potent visualization that I played with."

Witty and deeply musical-Balanchine comparisons invariably crop up-Varone is also a master at staging. He has worked in television, film, theater (Broadway's Triumph of Love) and even fashion, choreographing Geoffrey Beene's runway shows. "I'm really interested in doing projects beyond the company," he explains, "because the information I bring back makes my work better."

While he sets the playful Bel Canto to early 19th-century music from the opera Norma, he selects contemporary music by Michael Nyman for Mercury. It starts out with a simple phrase in which Nancy Bannon stands alone, leaning backward and sideways and repeatedly falling off balance. As more dancers enter the stage, the movement builds upon the original phrase, becoming rapid, almost frenetic. The performers travel forcefully through the space, all the while maintaining a fluidity and grace more akin to ballet than to postmodern dance.

It's surprising that Varone's mature yet risk-taking work hasn't always received due credit. "I firmly believe that we are doing some of the best work out there," he contends. "The quality of work is always the bottom line, and I think that's why we've continued to grow. I look back over ten years and think of the people I may have harbored jealousies toward, and they're not around anymore. I'm grateful for the time away from the spotlight-it allowed me to make mistakes and to mature as a human being."

For the show, Varone has also choreographed Knave, one of the most physically demanding solos he's ever made. It was intentionally difficult-the piece, which is for himself, may be his final act. "I find that I am losing my determination to dance in front of people," he admits. "I wanted to create a major solo that would stretch the final limits of my body, and also to create a very odd character."

But Knave, set to Henryk Gorecki's Harpsichord Concerto, is more than just a character study. "It came from my determination to see if I can give it one last kick," Varone says. "[It focuses on] the idea that as long as we remain committed to what we're doing, our bodies can take us anywhere. It used to be that if you were over 30, you had to stop dancing; now it's 40. I still believe that I can outdance kids that are 20 years old." He can-and frequently does.

 

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