LEARNING TO FLY Doug Varone and Dancers are frequent visitors to Maine.
In an unfavorable economic climate, what do choreographers need? They must have exceptional talent and skill, of course. But they must also attract superior dancers to perform their works, along with generous sponsors and ample audiences. They need a kind of Magnetic Force.
New York-based dance-maker Doug Varone's charisma will be evident at Merrill Auditorium on Wednesday, February 16, when Portland Ovations presents his company, Doug Varone and Dancers. Varone's aesthetic versatility and entrepreneurial drive have sustained his choreographic career for nearly 25 years — a remarkable accomplishment in the world of American dance. His company of seven dancers will perform two compelling works: Lux (2006), and the brand-new Chapters From a Broken Novel (2010).
Chapters is particularly interesting for Maine audiences because it is the fruit of efforts to make contemporary dance visible year-round, coordinated by Aimée Petrin of Portland Ovations and Laura Faure, director of the Bates Dance Festival. The two collaborated to support Varone's newest work in both its creative process and its public performances. Chapters From a Broken Novel is a National Performance Network (NPN) Creation Fund Project co-commissioned by the Bates Dance Festival, Portland Ovations, San Francisco Performances, the University of Akron, and NPN.
Doug Varone and Dancers have returned frequently to Maine since first performing at Bowdoin College in 1989. In residence on the Bates campus for the sixth time during the summer of 2010, Varone and his company taught classes and put the finishing touches on Chapters of a Broken Novel. Each of the 21 short sections that comprise the dance is inspired by one of thousands of quotations Varone has collected over the years from books, articles, fortune cookies, and overheard conversations. For example, the section titled Glass springs from a line from the classic song "Suite: Judy Blue Eyes" by Crosby, Stills, and Nash: "Don't let the past remind us of what we are not now."
These "chapters" may be performed separately or as an evening-length whole. Two were shown on stage at Bates last August. The Portland performance will assemble 14 of them. This disjointed "novel" (as incoherent, yet meaningful as our own lives) offers an assortment of characters interacting in various situations. Inventing stories about them and imagining a larger narrative arc for the entire series is part of the fun, and viewers' versions might, or might not, coincide with the original plotlines. Chapters embraces "the rawness of life" — the poignant, comedic, hectic, bitter, and beautiful vitality of existence.
Varone's captivating brand of contemporary dance exhibits twin characteristics — one formal, the other emotional. As a choreographer he plays with large-scale spatial and temporal relationships: the dancers' complex interweaving paths, near-misses, and sudden shifts in timing can be interpreted loosely as the changing dynamics of human relationships. Simultaneously, small-scale gestures, expressive of individuals' emotional states, fascinate him.
The music for this new work motivates and reflects the dances' range and vitality. David Van Tieghem, a prolific award-winning percussionist and sound designer, composed the score.