Doug Varone is the most successful narrative choreographer today. He is peerless in his ability to transform abstractions, coupled with compelling and complementary music, into dance pieces that leave the audience with a sense of having seen something with a cohesive beginning, middle and end.

Doug Varone and Dancers in Boats Leaving © Bill Hebert
Doug Varone and Dancers in Boats Leaving
© Bill Hebert

Mr Varone’s company, Doug Varone and Dancers, is the current recipient of the US Department of State’s DanceMotion USA grant, which gave him and his company the opportunity to collaborate with Argentina-based aerial troupe Brenda Angiel Aerial Dance Company. As part of the BAM Next Wave Festival, Mr Varone presented his 2006 Boats Leaving, and Ms Angiel presented her 2010 8cho, a series of aerial vignettes. The two companies joined forces to create the première Bilingua.

Mr Varone’s Boats Leaving, culled from photographs, is rife with segmented bodies and flailing limbs. The dancers assemble themselves in momentary tableaux, just long enough for the audience to begin to assign meaning to seemingly arbitrary poses before breaking away to form another scene. This piece seems to me a study in deconstruction: there is the constant assembling, disassembling, and reassembling, joined by the minuscule jerking of arms and legs and heads – as if the dancers are breaking down systematically. At one point, all of the dancers lie on their stomachs and inchworm their way across the floor, bathed in blue light. There is something of struggle and also of perseverance in this moment--this is surely not the most efficient way to move, and yet the dancers never hesitate.

Though Arvo Pärt’s Te Deum (yes, another Arvo Pärt piece) seems heavy-handed at times, Mr Varone’s incredibly aerobic choreography saves this piece from becoming too weighted. I admire his juxtaposition of drabness – the dancers’ muted grey, green and blue costumes and frequently dark lighting – with the image of hope that kept appearing. Toward the end of the piece, the dancers formed line after line, as if waiting for some salvation in the distant corner. There is something eternally patient about this piece, most beautifully embodied by Varone stalwart Eddie Taketa. He is a bastion of surety.

Ms Angiel’s piece was a thrilling display of aerial feats – the dancers often swooped over the heads of the audience members, and their floor-bound partners tossed them around without a single reservation – but the overall effect was one of eager-to-please lighter fare. These dancers, masters of technique and aerial dance, were certainly performing: arch smiles and choreographic winks pervaded each of the seven sections.

It was the final piece of the night, Bilingua, which left me with a heart thundering in my chest. The dancers – both Mr Varone’s and Ms Angiel’s – were clad in bright colors, casually dressed in t-shirt tops and shorts or pants. Amidst floor dives and an aerial climb up the back wall, Steve Reich’s Double Sextet seemed to gather the dancers near the center of the stage and then send them all swinging outward, full of purpose and vision. I marveled again at the endurance of Mr Varone’s dancers as they hurtled themselves toward the floor, only to rebound and try again – this time hurtling further. Though the piece seemed much more influenced by Mr Varone, Ms Angiel’s dancers performed admirably. Though they hadn’t quite mastered the grounded, swirling, exhaustive style of Mr Varone, their understated approach to the aerial parts of this piece were beautifully inserted. As the piece progressed, the dancers grew more explosive, spinning out further over the audience’s heads and leaping higher and faster and longer, just before the music ended and the stage went immediately dark. Such an ending may be something of a choreographic contrivance, but it felt right.