Watching a dance can sometimes leave me wondering why the choreographer created it. Often it’s during a “pure dance” work that doesn’t offer anything new, even if the technique is solid and the dancers are skilled (as is nearly always the case in New York City). Sometimes, form is enough, sometimes not. But two programs – redevelop (Death Valley) by Brian Rogers, and Alchemy, by Doug Varone – focus on important subjects that provide much context to work with.
Redevelop, at the intimate Chocolate Factory (where Rogers is artistic director) in Queens through Feb 28, concerns myriad ideas of gentrification and the inexorable displacement of longtime residents. The primary set pieces are modular plastic sheets suspended on wires by hooks, reminiscent of the building’s industrial roots. The semi-translucent panels obstruct, catch images, and are removed to allow us to see the action beyond. The work begins with a video of a man discussing local life from decades ago. The performance is like a poem comprising all different elements — hardware/building bits are illuminated slowly and magically; mysterious and mostly obstructed movements repeat; sounds, like wind chimes, haunt the air.
There are rituals, or their trappings, that accrue to structure daily life. Tea sets are stacked like a house of cards. A convivial dinner eaten far upstage, including its slowly intensifying savory aroma, becomes the finale, accompanied by a song by Rogers in the audience. Time passes and the layers peel away, moving upstage. The performance, like time, dissolves, evoking a wistful, tragic feel, like the film Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. Water drips through leaks in the roof, and a newly-revealed peek onto the street outside is the ultimate set piece—a pitch-perfect, surreal dose of reality. The production is put together superbly with impeccable lighting by Chloe Brown and keen consideration of every element.
Doug Varone’s new work at the Joyce, Alchemy, deals with two Daniels. To Daniel Variations by composer Steve Reich, it touches on the saga of Daniel Pearl, and also references text from the Book of Daniel in Reich’s composition. It ghosts Pearl’s story loosely; themes of oppression, suffering, and sacrifice mesh particularly well with Varone’s visceral, emotive choreography as performed by his outstanding company.
Varone discusses one interpretation of alchemy. “It goes through tense moments of horror where you’re kind of gripped, and the end is very much a release, and it talks about the hope that can come from this. I feel like the dance itself is built along those lines.” He has communicated with Pearl’s family, but isn’t sure how they will react to the work. He speaks of a strong impression Pearl left. “The thing that made him so incredible, both he and his wife, is that they were open books. They wanted to hear every story, and wanted to present every story. They didn’t want to have a point of view, or if they did it wasn’t about them.” (See my previous interview with Doug here)
Completing the Joyce program is Tomorrow, a suite of duets and solos to music by Reynaldo Hahn sung live, and Lux, an exuberant, acclaimed group dance to Philip Glass.
Photos: (top) redevelop (Death Valley) by Joan Marcus (bottom) Eddie Taketa and Natalie Desch in Doug Varone’s Alchemy by Phil Knott.