Lux Aeterna: Doug Varone and Dancers Close a Brilliant Season at ADF

Just one more night for the 2015 edition of the American Dance Festival. The 82nd season closes as it began, with kinetic consideration of the relationships between painting and dance, or said another way, of dance as a kind of painting. We began with Shen Wei, but these final images are by Doug Varone and Dancers. The concert repeats tonight in the Durham Performing Arts Center at 7 p.m.

Doug Varone Dancers in LUX, at ADF July 24, 2015. Photo: Grant Halverson.

Doug Varone Dancers in LUX, at ADF July 24, 2015. Photo: Grant Halverson.

It begins with the heart-opening Lux, from 2006, in which eight dancers dance by the light of the moon, the moon. (Dancing must be the most ancient art, after singing perhaps.) As lighting designer Robert Wierzel’s full moon rises in the sky upstage, and Philip Glass’ The Light surges and recedes like the incoming tide, they frolic and frisk, twirling and tumbling, Liz Prince’s fluid dark-revealing-light costumes flaring around them. They dance. This is not concept in motion, it is not calculated performance movement. It is the soul expressing its state of joyous oneness with a universe at once orderly and always in flux. Doug Varone is a humanist, I think, an artist for whom the human experience always lies at the core, and that includes both physical and psychic experience. Some of the most primal of both experiences find expression in Lux.

Doug Varone, THE FABULIST, at ADF July 24, 2015. Photo: Grant Halverson.

Doug Varone, THE FABULIST, at ADF July 24, 2015. Photo: Grant Halverson.

Varone has also lived long enough to attain some wisdom about our bifurcated states of being. He merges them beautifully in the solo for himself that he premiered at ADF last year. The Fabulist was very very new in 2014; in the intervening year it has muscled up, become more clear and definite. Again, the lighting and costuming are important to the stage pictures. The stage is black–then there appears a man in a sharply focused, narrow cone of hot light (powerful design by Ben Stanton). Doug Varone, not at this life-stage a slim-built man, seems both presented like a jewel and imprisoned by the light. He begins to dance, and stories unfold from his body, stories from a lifetime, stories like flesh on the skeleton of a human. Tears began to flow from my eyes almost immediately, and at times I shook with stifled sobs. Of course, this might have happened just from listening to the accompanying music, David Lang’s exquisite Death Speaks, but I also think that the man in the light would have brought them without the music, with his danced memories of blazing passion and his acceptance of Death’s empty presence along the dark edges.

The finale is a new work co-commissioned by the American Dance Festival and The Nasher Museum of Art at Duke University. In Recomposed, Varone works with, or from, pastel images by the American Expressionist Joan Mitchell. In the pastels, you can read the artist’s struggles with color, line, placement and relationships, but those records of her clarifying of her inner state have often made me uneasy–too close to chaos for my order-loving self. I’ll never look at them the same way again, after seeing the process kineticized at stage-scale. Before the moment depicted below, the dancers wear sheer white coveralls over their bodysuits, and late in the piece begin removing them, as images clarify, to reveal the definite blacks and clear colors that had been obscure (costumes by Reid Bartelme and Harriet Jung). The choreography and the dancing are not dissimilar to those of Lux, but the tone is very different. Once again, Varone demonstrates his musical acuity, setting this piece to Michael Gordon’s Dystopia. Moving in Robert Wierzel’s splendid, gorgeous washes of colored light, the dance-makers place and arrange and overlap, overturn and scrub out their marks, making an ever-disappearing record of effort and dissatisfaction. Until–a turning point…something is right, something can be added to, something is worth keeping. Out of unknowingness, fear and obfuscation, something is created. A picture. A dance. A life.

And it is good.

Doug Varone Dancers, arriving at clarity in RECOMPOSED, in its premiere at ADF, July 24, 2015. Photo: Grant Halverson.

Doug Varone Dancers, arriving at clarity in RECOMPOSED, in its premiere at ADF, July 24, 2015. Photo: Grant Halverson.

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