Review: Doug Varone and Dancers | TITAS | Margot and Bill Winspear Opera House

Heroic Dance

TITAS brings back Doug Varone and Dancers for another breathless and stunning performance.

published Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Photo: Grant Halverson
Doug Varone and Dancers perform ReComposed



Dallas — Like Texas weather—sunny one minute, icy winds the next—Doug Varone and DancersPossession swiftly changed moods. Propelled by the pulsating urgency of Philip Glass’s Concerto for Violin and Orchestra, Possession started out intense and never let up, if not in movement itself, then in mood.

Varone’s free-form, scattershot style makes full use of runs, slides, leaps, collapses and spirals, often performed at breakneck speed. It looks effortless: there are no “steps,” no “poses,” nothing remotely fancy. Consequently, what we witness is the glorification of the everyman, of ordinary movement ratcheted up to a heroic scale.

That freewheeling style showed up in three drastically different works Saturday night at the AT&T Performing Arts Center’s Winspear Opera House, the fifth time TITAS has presented the company. If Possession was ebullient as well as brooding to the point of despair, folded was even more intense, a rough and tumble conflict between two evenly matched men, and ReComposed, all flying loose limbs.

Photo: Erin Baiano
Doug Varone and Dancers perform Folded

In the first movement of Possession four couples connect and disconnect, one man swinging his partner around with her ending stretched out like a board on his midsection while another man is pulling on his partner like taffy. There is a hint of conflict, but much more a feeling of freedom. Not so in the disturbing second section, painfully slow at times as a couple size each other up; the woman supporting the man until he buckles at the knee. When the second couple appears, the mood is wary, all four gesticulating in an agitated manner, eventually all but one trailing off into darkness.

The last section is wild and impetuous, as couples propel themselves into surging, swinging, tossing, pulling abandon, the movement as racing and turbulent as the music.

Set to the grating, shrill music of Julia Wolfe’s Believing, folded brought together two men that apparently have a long and complex history together. They thrust and parry, draw close and pull back, grapple and toss. Every part of their body goes into play: feet, legs, arms, torso, heads. They are as alert as boxers. All the while the music rains down a steady stream of screeches, amplified by eerie shafts of light from above and mottled white light on the floor. At the end, the music stops abruptly as each man continues to shake his head.

Compared to Possession and folded, ReComposed was fairly mild stuff, energetic but emotionally calm. Inspired by the pastel drawings on the abstraction expressionist painter Joan Mitchell with her swirling, agitated lines and brilliant colors, ReComposed captured some of the impetuosity of her style, but not the edge.

The same can be said of Michael Gordon’s Dystopia, dissonant and fierce. (Incidentally, Mr. Gordon is the husband of Julia Wolfe.) We keep expecting the movement to pick up on the frenzy of the music, but it doesn’t.

ReComposed opens on a white background with eight dancers wearing bodysuits covered with a gauzy mesh. As the background changes from brilliant colors, the dancers shed their outer mesh to reveal outfits striped with orange, or green, yellow, red, or blue.

They leap and run in wild trajectories but miraculously never collide, limbs flying at all angles. They seldom pause, not even to move backward: they run instead.  And instead of the swirling, arching, tensile impulse of Possession, ReComposed plays on sharp outbursts and defined shapes, a more dynamic version of Merce Cunningham’s geometric patterns. ReComposed is certainly more accessible than Cunningham, but less challenging.


» Margaret Putnam has been writing about dance since 1980, with works published by D Magazine, The Dallas Observer, The Dallas Times Herald, The Dallas Morning News, The New York Times, Playbill, Stagebill, Pointe Magazine and Dance MagazineThanks For Reading

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Heroic Dance
TITAS brings back Doug Varone and Dancers for another breathless and stunning performance.
by Margaret Putnam

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