Doug Varone and Dancers
The Joyce Theater
New York, NY
February 3 & 6, 2004
2004 by Nancy Dalva
Varone's two programs at the Joyce Theatre last week were exhilarating
because he has accomplished a synthesis of his dance origins
(José Limón and Lar Lubovitch) and the contemporary vernacular
(postmodernism) he has long favored. (He founded his own company in 1986).
His new work called Castles plays on all current strengths, which
include great duet-making, a knack for the small telling gesture, the
parlaying of the interpenetration of forms into metaphor, and an economical
allusiveness typical of short story writers.
The current company members—John Beasant III, Daniel Charon, Natalie
Desch, Adriane Fang, Stephanie Liapis, Catherine Miller, Kaybon Pourazar,
Eddie Taketa, and Varone himself; with guests Faye Driscoll, Larry Hahn,
Nina Watt—are ideally equipped to be non-literal dramatists. They've
mastered the Varone idiom—the swoop and flow, the pedestrian traveling
steps, the brief sculptural groupings, the exchange of full weight, and
the play of swift slashing movements against and through negative space.
They dance about something when it is called for, as in The Bottomland
(2002) and in Castles (a world premiere), and infuse with urgent
energy the pieces that seem more abstract. They make much of dances that
have little to do with steps, and everything to do with shape; little
to do with dynamics within phrasing, and much to do with the dramatic
encounter and group dynamics.
It is for his duets that I first came to admire Doug Varone, first for
his work with Larry Hahn (and for Hahn's wonderful performances with Peggy
Baker, herself a fine actress, in Varone's work), and now for his expressive
partnering of Nina Watt, with whom he first danced in the José
Limón Company. All of these duets are compelling dramas, little
plays without words. Drawn in by them, I began to look for the qualities
of the duets in the group work: they were my ticket into perpetual motion
works like Of The Earth Far Below (2003), and Varone's signature
piece—at least until Castles—called Rise
In Castles, with two central duets, one for two men, one for
a man and a woman, no way in is needed. It is not a tricky dance; it is
a rich dance. The Bottomland takes the duet ethos and
spreads it across an ensemble, with Larry Hahn (retired last year from
the company and how guesting) the central figure, not so much because
he is on stage the most, but because he is the most.
Hahn is as good a dancing actor as I have ever seen—actually, he's
as good an actor as I‘ve ever seen—and not in any overtly
emotive way. Imagine Gene Hackman as a dancer, and you get the idea. Hahn
brings the interiority of film acting to the stage, but he is the actor
and the screen. He does small things big. He is inward looking, but extremely
It stands to reason then, how compelling he is on the film-sized video
that is the backdrop for The Bottomland. So too Nina Watt, so
reminiscent of Liv Ullman here. In fact, despite its Appalachian setting
and country music (Patty Love, with that hammered dulcimer sound of the
Carter family), there is a Bergman feeling to the dance—something
to do with tone, time, telling gestures of the hand to the face, and inward
in turn, is an extrovert work, quite lyrical and romantic. Set to six
waltzes by Sergei Prokofiev (Waltz Suite, Opus 110), it swims in the narrative
allusions the music inspires. The selections are from Cinderella and
War and Peace, and you can tell yourself stories based on them
when enjoying the dances. Mice! A coach! A horse! A soldier returning
from war! Combat! Romance! However, you could just as easily tell yourself
a different story—say, for instance, Romeo and Juliet.
The male duet could be Mercutio and Tybalt, the couple the doomed lovers.
About lovers: Varone's couples seek, whether in subtle invasion or great
passionate plunges, to inhabit each other's spaces. Or, one seeks to invade
the other's space, for a different kind of drama. For instance, in Castles
as a man lies prone on the floor with one foot flat, so that the
knee is raised, a woman dives through the triangular space between the
angles of the leg and the floor, then slithers desperately up his body
to get under his arm. She doesn't want to consume him. She wants to merge
with him. This is simple enough, but as a sexual metaphor it is potent.
And it is potent as itself.
Whether Castles is a series of discrete stories, or chapters
from a book, or a story with one through-line is unimportant. It can be
whatever you want it to, as long as what you want is romance. Clearly,
something Russian is going on, and Liz Prince's various chiffon tunics
and trousers enhance the prevailing sensibility with their palette–bone,
beige, a really russe red. The open allusiveness and the variety of the
encounters make the work not only worth seeing a second time–they
make it better the second time. You could probably people the whole thing
with characters from Chekhov if you felt like it, or for that matter Nabokov.
Every man's home is his castle, after all.
Varone is not an emerging artist; he'd too old and too accomplished for
that. But he's something even better. Varone is an emerged artist. He
now stands in relation to Limón the way Paul Taylor does to Martha
Graham. Not prodigals, but progeny.
Top: Doug Varone company in The Bottomland. Photo: Scott
Bottom: Larry Hahn (on video) in The Bottomland. Photo:
Volume 2, Number 6
published February9, 2004
© 2004 by Nancy Dalva
Autumn DanceView is out:
New York City Ballet's Spring 2003 season
reviewed by Gia Kourlas
interview with the Kirov Ballet's Daria Pavlenko
by Marc Haegeman
of San Francisco Ballet (by Rita Felciano)
and Paris Opera Ballet (by Carol Pardo)
The ballet tradition at the Metropolitan
Opera (by Elaine Machleder)
from London (Jane Simpson) and the Bay Area (Rita Felciano).
is available by subscription ONLY. Don't miss it. It's a good
read. Black and white, 48 pages, no ads. Subscribe
is published quarterly (January, April, July and October)
in Washington, D.C. Address all correspondence to:
P.O. Box 34435
Washington, D.C. 20043