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Doug Varone and Dancers

By Christopher Atamian

Doug Varone and Dancers
Joyce Theater, NYC
February 24–March 1, 2009
Reviewed by

Christopher Atamian

 

Photo by Phil Knott. Daniel Charon, Erin Owen, Ryan Corriston in Varone's Alchemy.

 

The reworking of Doug Varone’s 2000 Tomorrow, set to beautiful “Belle Epoque” songs by Reynaldo Hahn, opened an exciting evening. The dancing, precise and sensual, showed off Varone’s often mesmerizing choreography. The next two pieces--Lux, from 2006, and the New York premiere of Alchemy--highlighted why certain material works well with dance, while other material does not.

 
Lux takes place on a bare stage with full moon rising against a black backdrop. Varone manages to perfectly meld dance and music: The choreography reflects every change of cadence and rhythm in Phillip Glass’ “The Light.” The dancers stream in and out, a celebration of life and movement, twirling and falling, running backwards off stage, re-entering, and repeating the movement. It’s as if they’ve been wound up like superhuman toys and released, guided by an energy so boundless the audience feels lifted up into the air along with them. Eddie Taketa, Natalie Desch, Daniel Charon, and Netta Yerushalmy all stand out.

 
Alchemy was less successful. Set to Steve Reich’s “Daniel Variations,” the piece finds inspiration in the stories of murdered journalist Daniel Pearl and the biblical figure Daniel. As it opens, a light shines down on a lone woman (Erin Owen) standing to the side in front of massive brick wall. Does she represent Daniel Pearl, the biblical Daniel—or both? Dancers appear on stage, fall to the ground, pray, implore, fight each other, kneel, pray again, and are struck by an unknown, evil force. The four men and four women rise again and again only to be struck down each time, yet they never give up.


Reich’s score hauntingly invokes the Biblical Daniel, but together, the music and dance leave viewers wanting more. The work remains vague and neglects too many crucial details. It is perfectly acceptable, of course, to build a dance around abstract notions of human suffering and intolerance, but what here is specific to Pearl? And how does the story of the biblical Daniel come into play? Certainly Daniel faced many tribulations in the Bible, and the fact that he and Pearl share the same first name is interesting, but what are the actual links between them?

 
Varone’s movement vocabulary is compelling. His dancers pour their hearts and bodies into memorializing Pearl. If there is ever a reworking of the piece, one hopes it might bring to light in more tangible ways the two fascinating and tragic characters commemorated in Reich’s score.