Doug Varone and Dancers
February 22–24, 2013
92nd Street Y Harkness Dance Festival
New York, NY
Performance reviewed: February 22
Stripped/Dressed—a dance-demystifying strategy Doug Varone created a few years ago—is, in theory, a great notion. “A way to help audiences feel at ease and take ownership of their ideas,” he calls it. “A way to see the company close and dirty.”
A Stripped/Dressed event begins with an informal talk about the genesis and process of making dance and a demo illustrated by dancers in practice clothes. After intermission—during which, this time, we were invited to watch a video of Varone performers dancing in children’s hospital rooms—the group gives a formal presentation of a work. It concludes with a Q&A. All of that can add up to a lengthy evening, as it did on Varone’s recent bill in the Y’s intimate, dance-historic Buttenwieser Hall. The audience needs as much focus and stamina as the Varone dancers, and theirs are downright legendary. I can’t say mine held up nearly as well.
Doug Varone and Dancers certainly made the case for the persuasiveness of seeing dance live and close up. For their Harkness Dance Festival program, the troupe demo-ed the reconstructed Rise (1993), set to music by John Adams. This rousing dance has no business being shown just a few feet from our noses, but here it is—an abstract ensemble with the expansive feel of a zooming, bustling city of massive forces, risk-takers, big appetites, bigger ambitions. Varone rolls his dancers like dice, throwing them hard, way off center where they cling to Earth with tenacity. If you’re going along for this ride, pack your Dramamine.
From left: Eddie Taketa, Alex Springer, Erin Owen and Julia Burrer in Doug Varone's Mouth Above Water
Photo by Julie Lemberger, Courtesy 92nd St. Y
Mouth Above Water, the new work, shares some of those qualities but compresses the surges and blaring movement into tighter, more disturbing intersections and interactions among the eight dancers–Hollis Bartlett, Erin Owen, Xan Burley, Alex Springer, Hsiao-Jou Tang, Julia Burrer, Eddie Taketa and Colin Stillwell. For the Harkness premiere, Varone used the stage space for a kind of Punch and Judy show of three performers and their looming jet-black shadows. The rest danced on the floor in front of us, as they had during the demo, with the tall and willowy, breathtakingly expressive Burrer appearing to be a sacrificial victim. These performances and composer Julia Wolfe’s orchestral string piece—“Cruel Sister,” inspired by an old English ballad about two sisters’ lethal rivalry over a man--made me shift in my seat to release the effects that this tension and violence had on my own body.
Bottom line: Doug Varone’s troupe might be the last one that needs to sell an audience on its methods. If this work and these dancers can’t move you, I don’t know what would.
Pictured at top: Xan Burley (right) and Hsiao-Jou Tang in Doug Varone's Mouth Above Water
Photo by Julie Lemberger, Courtesy 92nd St. Y
If "Fosse/Verdon" whet your appetite for the impeccable Gwen Verdon, then Merely Marvelous: The Dancing Genius of Gwen Verdon is the three-course meal you've been craving. The new documentary—available now on Amazon for rental or purchase—dives into the life of the Tony-winning performer and silver-screen star lauded for her charismatic dancing.
Though she's perhaps most well-known today as Bob Fosse's wife and muse, that's not even half of her story. For starters, she'd already won four Tonys before they wed, making her far more famous in the public eye than he was at that point in his career. That's just one of many surprising details we learned during last night's U.S. premiere of Merely Marvelous. Believe us: You're gonna love her even more once you get to know her. Here are eight lesser-known tidbits to get you started.
Every dancer knows that how you fuel your body affects how you feel in the studio. Of course, while breakfast is no more magical than any other meal (despite the enduring myth that it's the most important one of the day), showing up to class hangry is a recipe for unproductive studio time.
So what do your favorite dancers eat in the morning to set themselves up for a busy rehearsal or performance day?
When it comes to dance in the U.S., companies in the South often find themselves overlooked—sometimes even by the presenters in their own backyard. That's where South Arts comes in. This year, the regional nonprofit launched Momentum, an initiative that will provide professional development, mentorship, touring grants and residencies to five Southern dance companies.
You ever just wish that Kenneth MacMillan's iconic production of Romeo and Juliet could have a beautiful love child with the 1968 film starring Olivia Hussey? (No, not Baz Luhrmann's version. We are purists here.)
Wish granted: Today, the trailer for a new film called Romeo and Juliet: Beyond Words was released, featuring MacMillan's choreography and with what looks like all the cinematic glamour we could ever dream of: