The Washington Post



Doug Varone Projects His Vision With Color, Motion

By Pamela Squires
Special to The Washington Post

September 14, 2002

Doug Varone and Dancers are nothing short of extraordinary. The troupe's program Thursday night at the University of Maryland's Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center was unusual in that it presented the indoor-stage adaptation of "The Bottomland," a work mixing film and live dancers that had its first performance only two weeks ago at Wolf Trap's 7,000-seat outdoor pavilion. All the intensely satisfying hallmarks of Varone's distinct style were there-the dramatic quality of the dancers, intricately structured dances, and the ability to move dancers through space the way an artist lays down blotches of color across a canvas.

"The Bottomland," which was co-commissioned by the Wolf Trap Foundation for the Arts and the Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center, used films of the company dancing 260 feet underground in Kentucky's Mammoth Cave National Park. On film, the dancers are 40 feet tall. Onstage, they are no more than six feet tall. Varone juxtaposes the sizes to delightfully loopy effect.

This economy is very much part of Varone's "voice." He uses unison sparingly and to great effect, a technique seen also in the evening's other ensemble work, "Approaching Something Higher" (2001) and the duet "Home" (1988).

All three works milked the same sources. These include Varone's predilection to treat the company as a large, moving amoeba in which no single dancer exists alone. The dancers exist in relationship to each other, both spatially and emotionally. These relationships are palpable, as in "Home" when a brief touch on the shoulder creates a violent flinch: The combination of reaching out and irritation feels instantly familiar.

Also at the source of Varone's creativity is the way he has his dancers switch with lightning speed from a relaxed stance to a dancer's pulled-up takeoff position. He keeps bodies moving through space, and builds complex structures. In "Approaching Something Higher" set to Brahms's Piano Trio in B, Op. 8, for example, Varone makes visual use of every upbeat, cadence and musical entrance. The result is a dance as complexly structured as the music (a rarity these days) and one that keeps the dancers hurtling on stage and off to achieve it.