Doug Varone and Dancers

March 15, 2011

Doug Varone and Dancers

The Joyce Theater, NYC

March 15–20, 2011

Reviewed by Eva Yaa Asantewaa


Ryan Corriston and Netta Yerushalmy in
Chapters from a Broken Novel. Photo by Julie Lemberger. Courtesy Varone and Dancers.


Doug Varone’s Chapters from A Broken Novel briskly deploys seven dancers across 74 minutes and 20 “chapters” inspired by quotes from books, films, and overheard conversations. The resulting configurations—solos, duets, quartets, a trio, and full ensembles—proceed as discrete episodes, some abruptly sheared off, truly ripped out of context, rather than resolved.

Clang! Throb! Grind!
David Van Tieghem’s emphatic music—which mixes his live percussion with recorded material—provides the sonic glue that keeps this novel’s pages from exploding into confetti. Boom! Whistle! Flush! (Yes, one section opens with the sound of toilet flushing.) How confusing, if a little amusing, to be listening to a part-serious, part-parodic collage of movie-score motifs when you’re watching something called a “novel.”

Like interesting literary characters, the dancers—those sturdy creatures of rubber and steel—manage to hold one’s focus as Varone puts them through their unrelenting paces. But this novel ranges all over the map—rolling out gnarly inter- or intrapersonal conflict; or a trio of gentle men continuously changing partners in a same-sex slow dance; or an ensemble madly churning, twirling and dashing apparently just for the energy of it. Unlike many a multi-sectioned mega-dance production, Chapters helpfully gives us supertitles projected on a silk curtain billowing out over the stage so that we can know when we’re watching “The Ghosts of Insects” or “Egalité” or “Tile Riot.” But knowing what these titles—and, often, their sections—have to do with anything is an entirely different matter.

So, are you caught up in a novel? A movie? A dance theater piece? Hard to be sure, because the nature of what you’re seeing keeps changing without allowing time for adjustment. Grabbing snippets of things by chance, then splicing and crafting them into a work can be an exciting risk. In this case, fully engaged, resolute performers—particularly Ryan Corriston and Netta Yerushalmy, solo or together—bear the burden of making that gamble pay off. They’re the reason to keep reading this very strange and sometimes silly novel straight through to the end.


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