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June 2003

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Juilliard Dance

Published: June 26, 2003
Category: review

Dancers give form to emotion at Purchase: Doug Varone and Dancers

By Rachel Straus

Doug Varone and Dancers scintillate. By creating passionately intense works that probe human experience, Varone’s dances captivate the heart and the eye.

Saturday, the nine-member, 17-year-old company performed at the choreographer’s alma mater, Purchase College. Varone’s program – “Aperture” (1994), “As Natural as Breathing” (2000), “In Thine Eyes” (1996) and “Of the Earth Far Below” (2003) – also completed The Performing Art Center’s 25th anniversary season.

Varone’s dances combine the emotionally potent language of everyday gesture with the athletically vigorous free-form style of contact improvisation.

In “Aperture,” three dancers stood on a darkened stage until Schubert’s starkly lonely piano solo composition, “Moments Musicaux, No. 2,” flooded the theater. One by one, the trio embarked on a sequence of ever-expanding gestures that had the quality of an interior monologue, or a journey through the mind.

Although the exact meaning of a flopped arm, a caress of a face, or a ponderous head roll remained unknown, these gestures revealed that words are only one avenue to understanding the soul’s pathos.

In “As Natural as Breathing ” – a light-hearted romp where the full company grooved in a pack to Joey De Francesco’s upbeat “Ashley Blue” – it became clear why Varone is sought after by the worlds of film, television, Broadway, opera and dance. He’s a master of conveying life’s intensity through dance.

Squarely built but every bit as loose as a child flinging himself around the living room, 46-year-old Varone entered the stage in “As Natural,” snapped his fingers and – presto! – G.C. Park’s bluesy “Don’t Misunderstand” poured out of the loudspeakers.

Varone’s cameo appearance not only poked fun at choreographers’ god-like control of the stage elements, his loping, gesticulating solo clarified the dance’s title -the need for companionship is “As Natural as Breathing.”

Then, like a thunderclap, the last two dances abruptly altered the evening’s mood. In “Of the Earth Far Below,” Varone’s tumbling, colliding black-clad dancers whipped through Steve Reich’s fiercely bowing violin music to create a vision of a community on the verge of total destruction.

Unlike many recent dances that respond to current events, “Far Below” remained a physically graphic depiction of war without falling into sentimentality.

“In Thine Eyes,” a long work dragged down by Michael Nyman’s pompous operatic composition, the evening momentarily sputtered into digressive darkness.

But thanks to Varone’s committed dancers – which included Adriane Fang’s poignant earthiness, Natalie Desch’s sultry athleticism and John Beasant III’s insouciant presence – the evening remained quite wonderful.

The Journal News

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