Kennedy Center's America Dancing closes with a flourish

April 30, 1996|By J. L. Conklin | J. L. Conklin,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

A walloping performance by Doug Varone and Dancers was the fitting conclusion to the Kennedy's Center first year retrospective of modern dance, America Dancing. Varone's choreographic roots are deeply embedded in the traditions and techniques of seminal choreographers Jose Limon and Lar Lubovitch.

While Limon's and Lubovitch's choreographic inflections are readily discernable, Varone has adopted a clear and magical vocabulary of his own. The New York-based choreographer's work is highly original and remarkably exuberant.

Varone's program of four dances seen at the Terrace Theater last Tuesday night ran the gamut from the piercingly serious to just plain fun. Even though the more somber works, "Aperture," "In Thine Eyes" and "Rise," outweighed the whimsical "Let's Dance," Varone still managed to embed witty physical interplay between dancers in all of his pieces.

What is most evident and exciting about Varone's dances is the exceptional musical vitality he brings to them. His musical visualizations are most noticeable in "Lets Dance" and in "Rise" where the dancers' physical response was so closely attuned to the music that it seemed the audience was watching and listening to the score.

"Let's Dance," a work in eight sections set to music of the swing generation, trotted out its various duets and trios with glee. Varone's movements were expertly welded to the various songs. Yet, this was an abstract alliance, for the dancers never overtly interpreted the lyrics, only the music phrasings. Dancers Nancy Coenen and David Neumann were wonderful in "A Fine Romance," and Larry Hahn's and Neumann's delightfully wacky interplay in 'The Coffee Song" gave "Let's Dance" the quality of an old Gene Kelly or Fred Astaire movie.

"In Thine Eyes," danced by Varone and Gwen Welliver to an original vocal score by Michael Nyman, was the strongest and most challenging dance on the program. The lengthy work was demanding for both dancer and audience. Varone and Welliver created a surreal, fragmented world. The couple's robot-like and short spasmodic gestures were equally compelling and disturbing. It looked as if large chunks of information had been erased or eroded and the vacant moments created a discernable tension throughout the dance. The stiff-legged walks and full-torso tilts recall the mechanical dolls in "The Nutcracker."

"Aperture," a work for one man and two women, was so focused on the use of gesture that it felt as if all three dancers were involved in a silent yet dramatic conversation. Within a pool of light the trio first gesticulated independently, then in response to one another using mundane and emotionally charged gestures.

The work concluded with small, intimate hand movements and head tilts, giving the impression that the three dancers had just shared a joke.

Varone closed the evening with "Rise," a work for his company of four couples that exuberantly celebrates the music of John Adams. The dancers weave through the abstract work, often repeating movement themes yet constantly in the throes of momentum. The highly charged work brought cheers from the audience.

America Dancing will continue next year with performances by Merce Cunningham Dance Company, Pilobolus, Tharp, Anna Sokolow's Players' Project, Buglisi/Foreman Dance and the Paul Taylor Company as the series explores the generations following Martha Graham.

Pub Date: 4/30/96

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