Doug Varone and Dancers at Jacob’s Pillow
August 12, 2009 performance reviewed by Jocelyn McGrath
A pure, silver moon slowly rises up the center of the backdrop. One dancer starts moving on stage, but soon he is joined by another dancer, and another, until the moon is hanging over a scene filled with bodies whirling and leaping into sight, then receding back into the wings like crashing waves. Like a real moon ascending, its motion is incremental, but one notices every now and then how it has risen higher. 2014 Jacob’s Pillow schedule, Contact info. and links
As the dancers ebb and flow, their over-the-top energy and constant motion seem unstoppable. Eventually, the group surges onstage, but leaves behind the first soloist, standing alone like a solitary rock. The piece is Lux, the third in a series of work by Choreographer and Artistic director Doug Varone. Through the evening, we are like the moon, watching as time passes, subtly but inexorably shifting as the experience unfolds.
- Doug Varone and Dancers – Aug. 12, 2009 – Jacob’s Pillow
- Castles (2004) Waltz Suite, Opus 110, Sergei Prokofiev
- Short Story (2001) Prelude in C, Sergei Rachmaninoff
- Lux (2006) The Light, Philip Glass
- Running time: Approx 1 ½ hours with intermission
Loose, organic, easy—from the delicate wiggling of the toes, to the gentle hands-on spiraling tip of a head—the group moves as a total organism. Clasping and unclasping hands, winding in and around each other, they rise and fall with a collective breath. They search out and explore each other’s interior spaces, with plenty of diving and skidding or backing through legs—or as in one duet, when the woman repeatedly slithers through the low angle under the man’s bent knee, as if emerging from a secret passage. Connective gestures abound: rearranging limbs, bumping chests, group hugs, grabbing a hand to fling it away, dizzily falling toward each other. Often one motion seems to leap from one person to another, as if an electric tracing of energy is made visible, traveling through the group.
The middle piece, Short Story, is exactly that, a concentrated vignette of a troubled relationship. In this dance, the layers of casual gesture, emotional resonance, rapid hands-on lifting and partnering culminate in the evening’s most electrified moment of stillness, perhaps the only moment of true stillness. This is the most self-conscious moment of all of the pieces. Otherwise, this choreography resists resting places for the mind to make a decision about what is happening. The pace of the movement is constant and flowing—a visual and sensory stream of consciousness.
Costuming for choreography that dissolves the boundaries between performance movement and pedestrian movement is challenging. Most successful were the simple and playful costumes in Castle, with the flaring short skirts and circus-like red accents. Sometimes the point is to deemphasize the body, as in the dark blue and black slacks and shirts worn by the two dancers in Short Story. Here, the clothes were more like anti-costumes, contributing only to the dark mood via colors like that of a bruise. On the other hand, the variously shaped, flowy costumes in Lux—mostly black, with white inset pieces or large flapping slits—were distracting, and neither augmented the wild kinetic sweep of the dancers’ movement, nor did they have the graphic simplicity of the lunar theme.
The wide variety of body types in this company is striking, and Varone creates fresh experiences with this palette. Very tall Julia Burre’s legs are amazing pinwheeling across the sky in Lux. In the striking same-size duet between Daniel Charon and Alex Springer in Castles, the intimate weight sharing and lifts between equals seem to create a whole new vocabulary.
These dancers have mastered the spooky skill of moving like us, like non-dancer civilians, and then in the next instant seamlessly becoming “dancerly.” The walking, jogging, touching that happens on stage looks like it could be happening anywhere. This begs the question: When does a movement become dance, and when does it stop? Does it ever stop? Varone doesn’t answer these questions, he simply puts daily motion in a continuum of communicative gesture and artistically trained movement; he lets the ambiguity speak for itself.