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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