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.