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Masterful Moves

Doug Varone is known for the masterful way he moves groups of people around onstage, yet he may have outdone himself in his latest work, “To My Arms/Restore.” With musicians of New York Baroque Incorporated, six vocalists, and a choir of 100 voices conducted by Tony Award-winning Ted Sperling, the two-part evening achieves a blending of movement and music so seamless there are times you might swear the dancers are singing.

Performance

“To My Arms/Restore,” choreography by Doug Varone

Place

NYU Skirball, New York, NY, March 23, 2024

Words

Karen Hildebrand

Doug Varone Dancers in “To My Arms/Restore” by Doug Varone. Photograph by Greg Kessler

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Varone opens “To My Arms” by introducing his company of eight, two and three dancers at a time, giving each duet and trio a lavish section. He continues to prize these initial pairings when the full ensemble comes together and they begin to stand out as discrete characters within a larger community. Each section of “To My Arms” features a vocalist performing operatic arias by George Frideric Handel. 

It's clear something has happened to this group. Courtney Barth and Ryan Yamauchi occasionally take some halting steps in their gorgeous duet, and when they exit, Barth stumbles. When Brad Beakes and Jake Bone first enter, they wobble and lean on each other, groping for equilibrium—have they survived some kind of accident? Or maybe they’re drunk. Joniece “JoJo” Boykins drags a foot during an entrance with Daeyana Moss. Thryn Saxon performs a striking solo, while mostly ignoring Marc Anthony Gutierrez as he crawls diagonally across the stage. In a later duet, Beakes and Bone scooch into an embrace on the ground. When they stand, they lean chest to chest, chins tucked into the crook of the other’s neck, arms held stiffly wide, as if scarecrows embracing.

Thryn Saxon, Daeyana Moss, Joniece "JoJo" Boykins in “To My Arms/Restore” by Doug Varone. Photograph by Greg Kessler

Varone’s movement style lends the dancers an element of elation—tilting back their heads, with arms lifted in a wide port de bras, small arch to the upper back. They voraciously eat up space, arms like street signs pointing the way. Yet the vocabulary is at the same time deeply personal, as if people in conversation. Varone can carve out a telling hitch in the shoulder or a duck of chin, without interrupting the grand sweep of momentum. 

Costumes by Caitlin Taylor are a pleasing collection of grayed out shades of blue, maroon, gunmetal. Casual outfits of pants, tunics, or shirts, each different, yet of a set. After intermission, the evening resumes with seemingly the same clothes, only now glowing with burnt orange and yellow tones. Shirttails flap and whip as the dancers fly through space.

Brad Beakes, Jake Bone, Thryn Saxon, Ryan Yamauchi in “To My Arms/Restore” by Doug Varone. Photograph by Greg Kessler

“Restore” continues in the world established by “To My Arms.” The strains of Handel now include contemporary electronic sounds in “Handel Remixed” by Nico Bentley. One hundred singers of MasterVoices choir are seated onstage in three long rows, their faces ghostly behind the rear scrim. 

The dancing, full company onstage, is dynamic and hypnotic. When they drop into occasional unison, I sit up straighter in my seat. There is a tribal power in a particular phrase where they shift weight from one foot to the other, rotating while gradually widening their stance, then hop forward together in wide second position. Once, after trotting in a circle, they all slide to the floor like marbles spilled out of a bag. Yamauchi is a magnet for my focus. In part one, his character was odd man out in the community. Now he’s a leader, as he rises to his knees from a cluster of fallen bodies with a beseeching gesture. The vocalist begins singing and I have the sense it is Yamauchi I can hear. At the end he sets everyone spinning like dervishes. Then, as if the battery has run down, the electronic score fizzles. The dancers fan out and move downstage—are they beckoning to the audience as the curtain drops? It’s the kind of finale that brings an audience spontaneously to its feet. 

Karen Hildebrand


Karen Hildebrand is former editorial director for Dance Magazine and served as editor in chief for Dance Teacher for a decade. An advocate for dance education, she was honored with the Dance Teacher Award in 2020. She follows in the tradition of dance writers who are also poets (Edwin Denby, Jack Anderson), with poetry published in many literary journals and in her book, Crossing Pleasure Avenue (Indolent Books). She holds an MFA from the Program for Writers at Warren Wilson College. Originally from Colorado, she lives in Brooklyn.

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