The Village Voice

 

Mastery Has Many Faces
Struggle for Beauty
by Deborah Jowitt
December 19 - 25, 2001

 

In Doug Varone's duet Care (1989, revised this year), one man (Larry Hahn) supports and soothes another (Varone) who is mired in autism or mental illness. They stand, sit, walk, run, and convey their feelings via a lexicon of small everyday gestures. Your heart breaks. Such motions underlie even Varone's lushest and most "dancey" works, like Approaching Something Higher, which premiered at the Joyce last week. The nine profoundly expressive performers swirl through Brahms's Piano Trio in B Major, op. 8, their formations coalescing and dissolving in an almost constant flow of twining and springing, falling and rebounding. Even if you didn't know that the company began work on this piece on September 10, you'd feel how fraught it is. Big trajectories are blocked or defused by little evasions, shrugs, staggers, and dodges. In Care, Varone is besieged by inner demons; when these people achieve unison, it's as if an outer force has blown them into consensus and may as easily blast them apart or draw them from one another's grasp.

Varone is musical in ways both conventional and subtle. Daniel Charon suddenly windmills his arms as Brahms breaks into a fierce passage, and the rightness of the pairing strikes with a visceral force. It's not obvious that a trio for Hahn, Eddie Taketa, and Natalie Desch was inspired by the slippery relationship between Brahms, Robert Schumann, and Clara Schumann; the dancers just interweave softly in Jane Cox's pool of light, one always watching two.

This rich dance hymns hope and love and tenderness. Ballet Mécanique, premiered at Jacob's Pillow last summer, both queries and trumpets the industrial world that George Antheil depicted in his eponymous 1924 musical landmark, in which crashing noises, sirens, and telephone bells attack thunderous piano playing. Antheil composed the music to accompany a film by Fernand Léger, and Varone's dancers are dwarfed or veiled by Wendall K. Harrington's traveling black-and-white projections of wheels, girders, signs, and formulas. In Liz Prince's blue factory-worker outfits, illuminated by David Ferri, they fight their cogs-in-a-wheel status.

The bold, perfect synchrony with which Adriane Fang and Charon begin keeps cropping up, but other duets—Faye Driscoll and John Beasant III, Ashley Gilbert and Taketa—evoke the push and pull of levers and interlocking parts. Varone has become masterful at tilting the stage picture out of equilibrium and back again, at varying how we perceive these people's apparent attempts to balance order and chaos. At the end, Fang and Charon reprise their duet, then suddenly belly-flop into darkness. In the optimistic '20s, did Antheil guess the perils of industrialization that Varone understands so well?

 

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