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Monday, February 27, 2017

Doug Varone's Passions

ReComposed. Photo: Nikki Carrara
By Susan Yung

Doug Varone and Dancers performs three works at the BAM Harvey from March 29 to April 1. Varone discussed the varied repertory and some sources of inspiration.

Susan Yung: Can you reflect on the fact that Doug Varone and Dancers is celebrating 30 years? And does the BAM repertory reflect that?

Doug Varone: I feel incredibly grateful for the opportunity and support to do what I do everyday for the past 30 years. With the creative successes also come the disappointments, and as a result I’ve learned the great virtue of patience both in and out of the studio. I think mostly about the great and dedicated artists that I’ve had the honor to work with and how they’ve each left an imprint on the dances that have been created. The “and Dancers” part of the company’s name speaks to a family of artists and friends who have always allowed their passionate views to help shape the work and vision. 

Alex Springer, Xan Burley in Possession. Photo: Erin Baiano
The BAM rep definitely reflects my interests over the past 30 years. I’ve always felt that the work I create falls into two categories. One side of my brain has a need to create dances that have a chaotic sense of physicality and visual complexity. Dances like Rise (1993) and Lux (2006) build upon the organization of bodies in space to achieve their energy and design, allowing the structure of their scores to guide the dance. ReComposed (2015) lives in this world, channeling the visual inspiration of Joan Mitchell’s pastels into aural landscapes of Michael Gordon’s Dystopia.

The other side of my brain loves creating dances that are steeped in a more personal, emotional journey. Possession (1994) represents this canon of work, using imagery in non-linear ways to elicit visceral, human reactions from the viewer. It’s always been important to me as an artist that the work is felt beyond the proscenium, not just watched.

Finally, creating smaller works in duet form has always been a passion of mine. Many of these dances (Home, Short Story) have been the staple of our repertory for many years, exposing how we relate to each other with the most intimate of human dialogues. Caught in the ongoing need to create larger works, I am now actively choosing to create smaller sized dances in the future again. Folded (2016) was created to be part of a suite of chamber works entitled in the shelter of the fold which premiered in its entirety in 2016.

In the BAM rep, ReComposed takes inspiration from Joan Mitchell’s artwork, and Possession from a Byatt novel. Are your sources frequently so widely ranging, and where else do you seek inspiration to create dances?

DV: I am a great observer of the world around me and can use the tiniest of ideas to propel a choreographic journey. I never know where or when I find those moments of realness (an overheard conversation, half of a torn photograph, the patterns of people walking in Times Square, et al.) but always catalogue them in my brain until I need them for a dance. I am also a huge fan of the cinema and regularly look to the history of that art form for inspiration. I have always thought of my work as being cinematic in how it propels across the stage, changing the stage picture as effectively as a camera angle.

SY: While you’re perhaps best recognized as a modern dance maker choreographing for proscenium theaters, you have worked on many operas and in film. What, if any, projects outside of modern are you working on, or have worked on recently?

DV: I recently restaged a production of Salome at the Metropolitan Opera for soprano Patricia Racette and am currently at work on a staged version of Julia Wolfe’s Pulitzer Prize-winning score, Anthracite Fields. Additionally, in collaboration with screenwriter Eric Simonson and scenic designer Wendall Harrington, we are developing a theater work using Douglas Hofstadler’s book I Am a Strange Loop as its inspiration: hoping to create a live theatrical event that evokes a silent film in its look and movement exploration.

Doug Varone and Dancers come to the BAM Harvey Theater March 29—April 1, and great tickets are still available.

Susan Yung is senior editorial manager at BAM.

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