February 13, 2003


Dancing dances
and telling stories


Fiction and reality Interplay in Choreography
Nostalgia number ends Varone show on high note


It's easy to see why Doug Varone and Dancers are in demand anywhere in the world where there's an audience for contemporary dance.

The New York company, dancing at the Premiere Dance Theatre through Saturday, has performed in 50 cities in the U.S., and has toured Europe, South America and Asia. Toronto was long overdue for a visit from this troupe of nine dancers, ranging in age from late 20s to early 50s and covering a spectrum of physical shapes and ethnicities. They arrive on stage looking like characters from a novel, suddenly come to life. And indeed, the first work they presented, Possession, was inspired by Varone's reading of the A.S. Byatt book. Performed by eight dancers to Phillip Glass' "Concerto for Violin and Orchestra," the dance is an intricate piece danced at a quick tempo. As in the novel, there are parallel movements between two couples. Varone's choreography suggests the interplay of fiction and reality. As one couple lies on the floor, they seem to be dreaming of the couple standing above them.

The choreographer has said that he likes his dancers to look like real people. Well, they do.
They have everyday physiques and faces that suggest a story. But they can take the most common gesture, a grasp of the hand, or an arm outstretched in regret and let it soar into the realm of the imagination.

Varone's genius is to take the expressions of our daily body language and extend them into glorious, rhythmic movement, the way an expressionist painter might work from a snapshot.

Varone dances a solo he created in 1993, on the field of destiny, set to "The Wound Dresser," by John Adams. The song tells the story of a doctor tending the wounded on a battlefield, as Varone makes a slow procession out of clouds of smoke. Stripped to the waist in a pair of white breeches, he is naked beyond nudity. The solo suggests a soul in torment, in shock from what the body has endured. His shoulders raised high to his ears, the dancer looks as if he's literally hung up. This is his Walt Whitman-inspired song of the self, the lyrics' description of the carnage of war giving it special timeliness as America prepares for a bloody conflict.

Short Story, a duet performance by senior dancer Larry Hahn and a vivid blond, Natalie Desch, is Varone's attempt to do what fiction writers do - pack a lifetime into a short piece. Similar in its emotional depth to the Varone work Home danced at the Betty Oliphant Theatre a few weeks ago by Peggy Baker and James Kudelka, Short Story conveys all the passion and tumult of a long marriage in five remarkable minutes.

The show ends on a high note, with an extended bit of dance nostalgia - for polyester and American Bandstand, Hammond organ music and dances like the Watusi and the Mashed Potato. Varone makes a solo appearance midway though the piece as a character who seems to imagine himself to be the Frank Sinatra of dance. By the time he and his dancers come forward for their curtain call, they're a bit like the people we've come to know.