LEWISTON – Doug Varone’s choreography paints the extraordinary in sweeping images of the ordinary, the everyday movements of humankind elevated by his deliberate, precise brushstrokes.
On Thursday evening, in the first of two performance during his eighth residency at Bates Dance Festival, Doug Varone and Dancers presented two new works, “Carrugi” and “Able to Leap Tall Buildings” (both 2012), and 1993’s “Rise.”
“Carrugi” and “Rise” bookended the shorter “Able to Leap,” with a degree of symmetry, indicating the newer piece’s artistic descent from Varone’s 20-year-old signature work.
Throughout both, the eight dancers moved almost constantly – except when the music called for stops, which were sudden and perfect – portraying myriad human intersections, one after another at a breakneck pace. They ran, spun, swept their arms, performed quick lifts and fell to the floor, the shifts coming so quickly that a single movement could barely be distinguished before being overtaken by the next. Somehow, the effect was meditative, not frenetic.
Likewise, each dancer followed his or her own choreography without descent into chaos; the resulting visual super-saturation enhanced the purity of brief unison moments.
In “Carrugi,” all eight danced, in ensemble, small groups and solos, wearing floating modified street wear in travertine shades of taupe and gray, to Mozart’s “La Betulia Liberata,” an oratorio based on the biblical Judith. The dance’s name, though, refers to the labyrinth of medieval alleyways in Genoa, Italy.
Without direct reference to either setting, the choreography evoked conflict and cooperation, and the uncertainty of twists and turns, both architectural and interpersonal.
While portraying ease and spontaneity, choreographic precision included such fine details as an extra foot beat echoing the soprano’s tremolo. Much of the movement followed the impetus of one body part: a head roll could start a chain reaction through the body, for a unified sweep or spiral.
“Able to Leap” made a strong stylistic contrast. Inspired by a young boy’s manipulation of action figures, the duet by Erin Owen and Alex Springer featured tighter-jointed movement to music by Julia Wolfe consisting largely of long, often piercing, sustained notes.
Owen and Springer conveyed discovery – of their own bodies and of each other – and bemusement. Abrupt changes and sudden stops amplified the doll-like effect, and at one point Springer seemed to have broken. In a brief hug upon his restoration, he and Owen finally portrayed human softness.
In “Rise,” the dancing, costuming by Lynne Steincamp and lighting by David Ferri worked hand-in-hand for snowballing energy and its release. As the music, John Adams’ “Fearful Symmetries,” built in intensity, colors changed from muted blue to deeper purple to brighter green to brilliant red, each worn by a matched couple.
Julia Burrer opened alone on stage, wearing blue amid swirling stage smoke. To music with a bluesy Bernstein flavor, she and Eddie Taketa danced an elegant jazzy duet.
As the musical drama increased, Hsiao-Jou Tang and Hollis Bartlett, then Xan Burley and Springer, joined the dance. The final couple, Owen and Brandon Welch in red, entered with ceremony, like royalty lending authority to the gathering.
In changing groupings and patterns, the dancers rushed, fought and intertwined, supporting one another and fending one another off, until suddenly Burrer was alone again, in a circle of light.
If Owen and Welch represented a completion for “Rise,” Burrer and Taketa were its axis. Her long-held pose with one hand in the air was welcome stillness, released by her arms moving in grand, exploratory spirals. Taketa’s musicality was a wonder, as he brought out buried details of music that had become relentless.
After a climax and blackout, the lighting rose again, sun-like, and the dancers moved gently into formation, then stood blessedly still with eyes closed, as if in prayer or in sleep.
Part of the company’s everyman quality sprang from studied naturalness of shape and movement, especially in hands and feet. Most often they were used in overt imitation of non-choreographed appendages, the feet neither flexed nor pointed, the fingers hanging as if forgotten.
Also important to the human scale was Varone’s choice of dancers, each with an individual physical form and style, from Burrer’s endless, elegant limbs to Taketa’s compact strength and grace.
Jennifer Brewer is a freelance writer who lives in Saco.