Doug Varone & Dancers flash fun, finesse in O.C.

Dance · Reviews

All hail modern dance. Not “contemporary” dance, not “contemporary modern,” but old-school barefoot modern dance, a movement language spoken, traditionally, without the aid of shoes, that is, toes gripping the ground. A conversation, via a trained and fluid body, between music (sometimes text, sometimes silence), fellow dancers, and an audience.

Doug Varone, veteran choreographer and artistic descendent of patriarch José Limon, is a proud practitioner. His weekend show case at Segerstrom Center for the Arts, Stripped/Dressed, took place not at the Center’s habitual dance outpost, Segerstrom Hall, but at neighboring Segerstrom Concert Hall. A lighter, brighter space for audiences, but one lacking in traditional wings and backstage for the performers.

On a marley-covered floor where the Pacific Symphony Orchestra normally sprawls, the eight-member company (all marvelous dancers, but movement revelation came from Hsiao-Jou Tang, Alex Springer) delivered a fun and luxuriant program. It got off to a rich start with Varone’s “Lux” (2006) set to a Philip Glass score — a felicitous pairing of choreographer and composer, both unsparing romantics. Then came a lecture-demonstration. Varone, a sturdy fellow with amplified voice, nattered about his choreographic process. Using humor, the dance maker first likened his job to air traffic control. He then exposed the games, puzzles and challenges that lurk behind the finished product. It was good art-talk, and there was even a chance for the audience to participate. A child named Erin monopolized, seated Indian-style on stage while professional dancers improvised around her.

The company then donned costumes and Mozart’s rarefied “La Betulia Liberata” streamed in a recorded version for “Carrugi,” made by Varone just last year. It all wooshed by — sometimes in solos but mostly in group dances as the Varoneans spewed seamless streams of curving, voluptuous vocabulary. It had exigency and flow, but nary a pointed foot on view all night. Very natural lines to it. Dancers as human beings. Lots of dignity.

A stellar evening, smart, sassy, instructive, and beautifully danced. Bravo, Segerstrom Center for bringing this fine troupe to Southern California.

So-called “Stripped” and “Dressed” versions of the same dance moment here:

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