Doug Varone By Jennifer Tarrazi-Scully



I am proud to say that I am a self-proclaimed performance junkie.  From TV to movies to theater, I love to watch performers perfecting their craft and making interesting and creative choices to get their point across.  Convey a message, create a mood and evoke an emotion.  The genre of art that really tugs at my heart-strings, the one I have the most affection for and opinion about, is modern dance.  I’ve seen too many good modern choreographers fall by the wayside and lose themselves to convention.  I get it though, “…it’s hard out here for a…” modern dancer and a girl’s gotta eat.

Doug Varone does not fall into this category.  He is a modern dancer’s choreographer.  He is a true craftsman and I love a man who can manipulate a phrase.  I’ve seen his brilliance firsthand when I attended the Colorado Dance Festival specifically to work with the original DOVA company in 1996. He is the kind of artist who studies dancers; he develops long working relationships with them before he invites them to join the company.  Like any good doctoral program, he makes his students study the work before they can be part of the process.  It pays off though because he ends with a beautifully seasoned company, dancers who are devoted to his work, who stay with him a long time and who would probably travel to the ends of the earth for him.  It turns out I wouldn’t have to travel to the ends of the earth to see him.

March 5th was my first time at the Ferst.  The Ferst Center for the Arts, that is, at Georgia Tech.  It is a lovely facility in the heart of ATL.  I arrived early, was able to grab a cup of coffee and a bottle of water and browse through a couple of art galleries to quietly pass the time.   As I was getting my ticket I decided to chat up someone who was obviously familiar with the place and had attended a Master Class with the company prior to the performance.  Now, it has been a long time since I’ve seen Doug Varone and Dancers (DOVA) in concert and I found out that one of the original company members, Eddie Taketa, is still performing.  I’ve seen and taken class with Eddie.   He is as perfect a modern dance specimen as they come.  I also found out that DOVA was previewing excerpts of a new piece premiering in its entirety in NYC very soon.  This information alone added more butterflies to my already excited belly.  I couldn’t wait to get into the house and find my seat.

The space at the Ferst is not huge, but very inviting with its red velvet lined chairs and ample leg room.   The extraordinary thing about this space is its gigantic stage.  I felt like I was at an IMAX theater for live performances.  You can skip this summer’s 3D blockbusters and spend some time at the Ferst.  They have a great season lined up so check them out for your next date night at HERE or call 404.894.9600.  I will definitely see you there.

The show consisted of three pieces and I wish I could illustrate every moment for you, but sadly live dance is meant to be seen live.  I could never do this work justice on paper, but I can try to create a fuzzy picture, and highlight some special moments, so that next time you see Doug Varone’s name you will jump on the phone and get some tickets.

The first piece “Castle,” was created in 2004 to the score of Prokofiev’s Waltz Suite, Op. 110.  The full company dressed in rich medieval browns and burgandies. They used Varone’s soft, yet very athletic, release technique to create magical patterns interspersed with brief ballroom poses.  The dancers were earthy like clay figures creating structure out of chaos, or the chaos out of structure, as it may be.  The company then gave way to our first duet of the night.  Ryan Corriston and Alex Springer were left on stage shifting from one soft suspended lift to another.  I love a same gender pas de deux, and only a choreographer of Varone’s caliber can be as successful in creating such a subtle relationship.  The dancers carved through space rather ambiguously until, for the briefest of moments, they grasped hands.  The moment only lasted a nanosecond, but the beauty of the gesture has resonated in my mind ever since.  From that point on you see the meaningful subtext unfold.

Next, Julia Burrer, Erin Owen and Netta Yerushalmy swept in to create a quartet with Corriston, where the women manipulated him throughout the space, leading us into another memorable duet between Natalie Desch and Eddie Taketa.  These two are like modern dance royalty.   Regal, stable and strong–they weaved their body parts into more hanging lifts.  Natalie’s perfect solid arabesque lingers in my mind still.  As the music swelled to a crescendo, the two dancers laid, motionless, on top of one another in a sad intimate moment.  At one point, Netta skittered on the floor, acting like a misbehaved child among calming adult figures, or like a mouse scurrying through the castle between the legs of an unsuspecting court.

The second piece of the evening was a real treat.  DOVA gave us a preview of six sections (out of 20) from his newest work “Six Chapters from a Broken Novel” (2010).  As the piece progressed, we noticed a giant fold of white fabric hanging from the ceiling.  This visual accent lowered and reversed itself over the course of the six sections.  The first section began with Erin Owen, Corriston, Taketa and Yerushalmy doing a male versus female double duet.  They had a soft movement quality as their arms caressed their heads, scooping through the space deliciously as though moving through pudding.  The company joined them.   We heard thunder and they stood there in neutral grey costumes like ghosts.  I made this mental note before I realized the section was called “The ghosts of insects”.

In “Glass,” the second section, Corriston and Yerushalmy danced on the floor like a tormented, angry couple.  There was a hand reaching through an arm, a slap, and a head to head lean representing, to me, a standoff, between two people unable to compromise.

Next “Tile Riot” was a refreshing light solo danced by Owen in a Spot down stage right.  The movement was filled with literal, quirky gestures.  It told the story of a young woman primping in a bathroom.  Paranoia sets in as she sneaks a private touch.

The fourth section, “Egalité,” was a duet between Burrer and Desch.  These two dancers couldn’t be more different in size.  Burrer is very tall and long and Desch is smaller and more muscular.  Although seemingly mismatched, they danced fluidly in sync and had beautiful moments of unison.  Unison is a tool used way too often, in my humble opinion.  It is boring and usually inappropriate, but when Doug Varone uses it, it’s refreshing, surprising, and a lovely break for the eye.  These women didn’t look at each other until the end, but were deeply connected throughout.

Owen transitions into the fifth section and works her way back to stage right, this time in a more disturbing capacity.  She catches each lost company member, one by one, running backwards. They then, in turn, dance at her in an aggressive manner.  She just stands there terrified and shaking.

The sixth and final section “Ruby Throated Sparrow” was another stunning performance from Corriston and Yerushalmy .  Their relationship has changed at this point.  It is slow and soft.  They started drawing on the floor as though quietly planning their future.  Their stillness was filled with transition.  They seemed like sad lovers, as her sickled foot arced through the air and he smelled her hair.  The piece ended with him walking away as she awkwardly picked at her fingernails.  There was no resolution; it left me wanting more.  I truly hope I’ll be able to see all 20 sections in their entirety one day.

The evening ended with a joyous piece about the moon, “LUX” (2006).  I’m not going to get into too much detail, but the dancers actually smiled for the first time in the evening.  Eddie Taketa was the central character in this one.  He filled the space with love and joy.  His gooey starts and stops sent energy infinitely in all directions.  He was the moon, and the company was feeding on his delicate light.

This concert was a special treat for me, like imported chocolate and sushi from Saturn.  Doug Varone and Dancers represents everything that is right in choreography and dance.  I have two regrets.  The first one is that this show didn’t run longer than one night, so that all my devoted readers (hee hee), could run out this week and educate themselves on a true artist’s work.  The second one is a personal regret, and it’s that I didn’t stalk you, Doug, and become one of your dancers when I had the chance.  I am a fan forever.

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