Castles and Ruins

Doug Varone and Dancers, presented by Summerdance

At the Lobero Theatre, Thursday, July 20.

Reviewed by Felicia M. Tomasko

Doug Varone’s work is many things: challenging, beautiful, surprising, emotive, gut-wrenching, sublime, compelling, and lyrical. In his fourth visit to Santa Barbara, Varone and his company performed two pieces, “Castles” and “The Ruins of Language,” both of which explored the multiple aspects of relationships through dance.

“Castles” was set to the romantic Waltz Suite, Opus 110 by Sergei Prokofiev, and the company performed it with eloquence. Diaphanous jersey cotton costumes draped over the dancers’ bodies like liquid, highlighting the fluidity of their movements. While Varone’s choreography for women was compassionate and lyrical, particularly in Adriane Fang’s solo and Natalie Desch’s duet with Eddie Taketa, the male duet danced by John Beasant III and Daniel Charon was breathtaking in its visceral display of emotions. Full of unexpected moments, as when one dancer hung suspended between the other’s legs, or was held aloft for a twisted instant, the duet exuded strong feelings. Another surprise came when one of the most dramatic segments of the score was played out by two bodies lying on each other, still yet dynamic.

Language can subjugate us as well as set us free, and Varone explored both possibilities in his epic-length “The Ruins of Language.” The original music was by indie rocker/film composer Nathan Larson and featured nonverbal singing by Anthony Cochrane, Cat Martino, and Ariane Reinhart. The music was alternately eerie, disturbing, and gorgeous, as was the dance. The company was joined by guest dancers Larry Hahn and master dancer Peggy Baker. Partially developed during the company’s Summerdance residency, the intricacies of the work, like the dynamic nature of language, were still in flux. Scenes varied significantly from what was presented at an open rehearsal earlier in the week.

“Ruins” was both exhilarating and exhausting to watch. While the dancers segued from alienation to interconnectedness and back, Cochrane delivered a repeated series of nonsensical words that left our minds grasping for their meaning. Three backdrops were used in several ways, alternately revealing projected images and enclosing certain scenes throughout the piece. Scenes evoked classrooms and prisons, lovers’ quarrels and private breakdowns, frustrated attempts to sign life away by tearing through sheets of paper and the literal act of eating one’s words through chewing paper. The dancers tore through the ruins of language with lyricism in their motion and their stillness. A sensuous duet by Taketa and Fang completed the dancing, and then a final projection read: “We leave traces of ourselves wherever we go, on whatever we touch.” Even for those who were puzzled and disturbed by this powerful dance, a trace of Varone was imprinted on the mind.

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