The stage of the Schaeffer Theatre in Lewiston was filled with a sort of anxious grace Thursday night as Doug Varone and Dancers returned to the Bates Dance Festival.

Varone has been a semi-regular at the festival since 1992. At age 62, the New York native is still choreographing intriguing work that communicates on its own terms without resorting much to other forms. That said, the electro-acoustic music supporting this year’s pieces was unquestionably a presence, at times a clamorous one.

The program consisted of two related works created within the last few years. Both “in the shelter of the fold” and “epilogue,” suggest an uneasy search for harmony in a world not always welcoming the thought. Over the years, conveying this sense of uncertainty and hopefulness has proven to be one of Varone’s primary missions as a choreographer.

Consisting of vignettes ranging from quiet solo to large ensemble passages, “in the shelter of the fold” has dancers employing Varone’s recognizable language of movement. Halting advances, intertwining entanglements, poses alluding to, one moment, strength, the next, vulnerability, bits of abstract pantomime and awkward mutual support all combine to fill the stage with a sense that there’s something larger at work that the performers know of, recognize a need for, but are unsure how to secure.

The word faith has been used by Varone in interviews regarding this work and a mood of uneasy gesture and contemplation persists – whether it’s dancers relating to each other or seeming to join in a combined gesture toward a beyond suggested by beams of bright light.

The large group sections impressed the most, featuring visually dazzling passages by multiple dancers who combine in momentary solidarity before breaking off into smaller groups. The segment titled “mass” was exemplary in this regard, as well as being a crowd favorite for including festival students alongside the professionals.

Other highlights included a rough but not angry duet from Hollis Bartlett and Bradley Beakes and a mysterious, touching solo by Hsiao-Jou Tang. Special praise should also be afforded to a graceful pairing of Varone himself with Courtney Barth. Titled “field’,” this latter vignette included much flowing unison work before a slightly ominous end was musically implied to the otherwise pleasant interlude.

After intermission, “epilogue” seemed to pick up the action, but with the dancers dressed in more casual, less austere costumes, perhaps intimating a gentler afterlife or at least an ethereal calm after the distressful moments that preceded it.

His latest visit to the Bates Dance Festival makes clear that Doug Varone remains faithful to the many wonders of modern dance.

Steve Feeney is a freelance writer who lives in Portland.


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