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Doug Varone and Dancers’ Broken Novel

Julia Burrer and Alex Springer. Photo by Phil Knott.

Now in its 24th season, it’s difficult to think of Doug Varone and Dancers as a young upstart company. But this month alone many established modern companies are coincidentally having engagements in New York. They include—in order of longevity—Martha Graham, Merce Cunningham, Trisha Brown, and Mark Morris. Toss in Paul Taylor’s recent run at City Center, and those are some impressive years, collectively. Varone’s premiere, Chapters from a Broken Novel (through this weekend) includes elements that lend a fresh snap to this established artist’s grounded, muscular, expressionistic choreography, performed to a score by David Van Tieghem, who contributes percussion live.

The most immediately striking, element is the set by Andrew Lieberman—a simple sheet of silky white fabric, suspended from two pipes, draped over the stage. Lit from above, it becomes a luminous cloud that transforms the Joyce Theater. The pipes raise and lower to form a shed, or to compress the space. The titles of each section are projected onto it, pacing the 75-minute work and providing food for thought. Varone culled the subtitles from various sources—conversations, films, books—often poetic: “The Ghosts of Insects,” “Erased by Degrees,” “Ruby Throated Sparrows.” Others are more descriptive: “Target Practice,” in which Alex Springer dodges a chasing spotlight; “Funeral;” and “Tile Riot” (Erin Owen lets loose in a make-believe bathroom, revealing a sweet humor not always associated with Varone’s penchant of examining the human condition). In tension with this highly literate sense, Varone’s choreography is one of the most visceral and emotional styles around, a sort of connective tissue between pathos and literature. His dancers have conversations using movement, but it’s the thoughtful mediation of gut feelings that position it as a very human, pre-verbal means of communication.

One storyline threads throughout the evening—the relationship between Natalie Desch and Eddie Taketa. In different chapters we see them together, being wrenchingly separated, mourning, and uniting as group dynamics shift around them. Desch is powerful, super pliant, and projects movements into infinity. Taketa is elegant, lyrical, and cat quick. Their bond goes a long way toward binding together the disparate scenes, as does Van Tieghem’s propulsive, often filmic score. The company also includes Julia Burrer, Ryan Corriston, and Netta Yerushalmy, all accomplished in different ways.

  • JaneJS

    Thank you for this clear take of Doug Varone’s lastest masterpiece after the unwarranted thrashing of his work in the New York Times. His choreography is indeed “one of the most visceral and emotional styles around” and deserves the support of NYC’s dance world.

  • ELF

    Upon your wise and informed reviews, I am going!

  • Nancy Salmon

    My friends and I are so looking forward to Chapters having seen it in the raw at Bates Dance Festival last summer and parts of it, completed, at Portland Ovations last month in Portland, ME. I, too, appreciate this more balanced review.

  • Janis Brenner

    Yes, Susan. Thank you.

  • Robert

    A beautiful evening of rich work with a corps of dancers who consistently amaze with their range, strength, sensitivity and courage. Re: the New York Times review: overheard in The Joyce Theatre lobby: “The New York Times has made itself irrelevant to dance.”

  • Alice Teirstein

    Thank you Doug, Natalie, Eddie and all for exhilerating, pulsing, truthful, revealing choreography and dancing.

  • vks

    After having seen both the 92St Y worksop “Stripped” and “Chapters from a Broken Novel” performed Friday night at the Joyce, I read the NYTimes review expecting to read of the riveting performance. Stunned understates my reaction and realization how shamefully ignorant the reviewer is of dance. It certainly disqualifies NYTimes and renders themselves illegitimate arts critics. There is too little space here to clarify the integrity and the emotionally vitality of the choreography and dancers, whose artistry and intelligence astounded the audience.

  • BrendanBenFeeney

    “Chapters From A Broken Novel” is a must read………I mean see. What a stunning performance at the Joyce. I was captivated by the emotion, vitality, and unique movements of this seasoned dance company. Your review does justice to what I witnessed in Row H, seat 1. “Chapters” is a magnificent work performed by dancers who anticipate each other’s moves with grace and precision. You are on the “stage mark” with this review, SundayArts! Brendan Ben Feeney, Visual Artist. Educator. Champion of the Arts.

  • Stephen P.

    Hey Jane… “Unwarranted thrashing of his work”!? Robert… “irrelevant to dance”!? VKS… You are “stunned”!? Puhleeze!! What are you all smoking? I wholeheartedly agreed with what the critic had to say… I’m shocked that you didn’t acknowledge the facts of what that article had to communicate. Nowhere in that article was it mentioned that Varone’s company is NOT a visceral and emotional group. Wow folks, we have to take responsibility for poitning out bad work. Are you really that naive and/or ignorant when it comes to viewing dance? What fantasy train are you riding?

    It’s okay to acknowledge a weak evening of dance. Let me emphasize… Just because the dancing may be virtuosic, doesn’t necessarily mean that the work is strong too.

    The NY Times article was spot on. Varone has been reliying (for years) on the same formula (repeatedly) to make his dances. I’ve had many opportunities to attend and observe his workshops/lecture demonstrations over the past decade, and in my opinion, his work has lost a tremendous amount of steam.

    I challenge anyone in this forumn to identify what differences stand out between “Chapters” and say ANY of his other ensemble pieces. Furthermore, let’s take one of his highlight duet pieces from “Chapters”, danced by Ryan and Netta. Let me see… Wasn’t there a similiar duet danced by Daniel and Natalie in yet another flop of Doug’s work at BAM some years ago titled, “Dense Terrain”? The only difference with the “Chapters” duet is that Doug added the element of anger to help bring tension to the duet. (Sigh) Same formula, case in point.

    Have you seen any of Doug’s operas!? He thinks he can fool people, but from what I’ve observed, he literally pulls dance sequences from his existing repetoire of Doug Varone and Dancers and smatters it into the opera. It’s a LAME and CHEAP tactic if you ask me… It’s a PERFECT example of how he relies SO heavily on working from old ways.

    Doug should let go of his egocentric ways and give more freedom to his dancers to help him create in the studio… Doug reminds me of a scared little school boy. You can only go so far with such a narrow point of view. Some of you might say, “But wait! Doesn’t Doug allow his dancers to create in the studio already!?” Look closely people. Think.

    Chapters was nothing more than a mishmash of Lux, Rise, Boats Leaving… and oh wait, I think I also saw some smattering of movement sequences from his work on the Daniel Variations.

    I don’t want to negate anything that Doug and his company has achieved in the past, but c’mon folks! We need to pay credit where credit is due. The Times review has merit and I commend the critic for writing it!!

  • Stephen P.

    The New York Times review… Well written, all true, and honest.

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SundayArts is made possible in part by First Republic Bank and by the Rubin Museum of Art. Funding for SundayArts is also made possible by Rosalind P. Walter, The Paul and Irma Milstein Foundation, The Philip & Janice Levin Foundation, Elise Jaffe and Jeffrey Brown, Jody and John Arnhold, and The Lemberg Foundation. This program is supported, in part, by public funds from the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs in partnership with the City Council. Additional funding provided by members of THIRTEEN.