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Review: Doug Varone bares his dances' emotions in 'Stripped/Dressed'

January 26, 2013|By Laura Bleiberg
  • The Doug Varone and Dancers company performs "Carrugi" in the second half of their "Stripped/Dressed" program Friday at Segerstrom Concert Hall.
The Doug Varone and Dancers company performs "Carrugi" in the… (Steve Dawson )

Condense Doug Varone’s elongated commentary about his choreographic processes down to his most significant insights, and it would be these: that his dances are kinetic artwork about human passions, and that every single move has a carefully crafted context.   

“I don’t think I’ve ever done an abstract dance in my life,” the New York-based artistic director told a sparse but lucky crowd in the Renée and Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall in Costa Mesa on Friday night -- a program repeating Saturday night.

Lucky, because this engaging lecture-demonstration by Doug Varone and Dancers, called “Stripped/Dressed,” is not typical Segerstrom Center fare.  It was presented on the menu of Segerstrom’s two-week Off Center Festival, which delivers on its promise of feeding an audience hungry for something different and slightly more adventurous.

Varone’s confession about no abstraction was key. The work of this New York-based choreographer doesn’t immediately read as straight narrative (although it’s not exactly that, either). He layers his dances with complex and sophisticated phrasing of urgent and vigorous momentum, rather than conventional storytelling. He favors whipped arms, ungainly runs, sliding falls, bullet leaps, and everything hither and yon. He makes his eight dancers look like three times that number. Indeed, he professed a love for “cacophony of movement.”

But watch the connections among the dancers. Who’s touching whom? How does each gesture translate feeling? Therein lies the emotional truth-telling. The final detail is in the music. It’s there that he unearths his stories. Listen and look.

The evening’s first act, “Stripped,” began with a performance of Varone’s “Lux,” a 2006 work to Philip Glass’ first symphonic score, “The Light” (reminiscent of Bernard Herrmann’s pulsing music for Hitchock’s “North by Northwest”). The dancers wore baggy sweats and T-shirts, and the house lights shone brightly, giving “Lux” the intimacy of a rehearsal.

Veteran dancer Eddie Taketa was a central figure, almost an instigator for the others, of loping motion, gangly shapes and, also, stretched grandeur. Varone mirrored the monumental heights of the Glass composition, which was inspired by the scientific experiments that revealed the speed of light. In a central, grand pose that stopped the action, Taketa raised his arms, two fingers of each hand pointing skyward.

Then, for about an hour, we became students of the choreographic process behind “Carrugi” (2012) -- some of it entertaining, some not. When the dancers finally performed it with theatrical lighting and costumes after intermission, our schooling – though overly long – did pay off. Set to Mozart’s oratorio “La Betulia Liberata," “Carrugi’s” exploration of love and loss took on heightened poignancy. Under-layers of meaning, not accessible while watching “Lux,” had been revealed.  

Pulling back the curtain on a routine basis would not be desirable. It did have a side benefit, though, of acquainting us, too, with Varone's excellent dancers – Hollis Bartlett, Xan Burley, Julia Burrer, Erin Owen, Alex Springer, Colin Stilwell, Taketa and Hsiao-Jou Tang.  

The program repeats at 8 p.m. Saturday at Renée and Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall. Tickets are $20.

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