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Wednesday, March 2, 2011

How to read a broken novel

Choreographer Doug Varone's new work Chapters from a Broken Novel is an evening-length dance piece that will have its New York premiere in mid-March. It's comprised of 20 short dances that together make up the full “novel,” but are also individual stories which can be pulled out and shown in different ways and in different order. Atlanta will be lucky enough to take a peek at six of the chapters when Varone's company performs at Ferst Center on Saturday, March 5, in advance of the full work's New York premiere. We caught up with Varone to discuss the new work.

What was the inspiration behind Chapters from a Broken Novel?
I collect a lot of quotes: from novels, from films, from listening to people on their cell phones on the subway. I remember them, I write them down. They're things that are evocative, that make me want to make dance to them. The essence of Chapters was taking quotes that attracted me and moving into the studio with them and creating dances. Each of the dances are chapter titles. The chapters we're bringing to Atlanta include names like “The Ghosts of Insects” and “Erased by Degrees.” “égalité” “Ruby-Throated Sparrows,” “Glass.”

Could you give an example of one of the quotes?
There's a solo entitled “Tile Riot,” and it's based on an Erma Bombeck quote. “What do you think is really going on when a child is locked in the bathroom for an hour with the water running and he says he's doing nothing?”

You use terms like novel, character, chapter. Is there a specific narrative that the audience will be able discern?
There are characters that can be followed, but not necessarily in a linear sense. For instance, there's a woman we see in a humorous solo and then she comes back later in a very desperate situation. You see characters go through different aspects of life, but they're not necessarily depicted in a linear way.

Choreographer Doug Varone
  • Choreographer Doug Varone
Can you tell me about the music for Chapters?
The music for Chapters is by a composer by the name of David van Tieghem. He used to be with the Talking Heads, so his music has a beautiful percussive edge to it. But it also has this incredible subtle dramatic under-scoring that ties the chapters together. It's an incredible score.

Did he write it for the movement or did you create the movement for his music?
A little of both. We worked in various ways. Sometimes I would videotape movement and send it to David without sound. Other times he would send me some ideas based on directions I was giving him. We would take each of these into the studio to see how they elicited movement and ideas.

Your dances require a lot of technical proficiency, but your dancers often don't look like typical “dancers.” They look like people you might see at Starbucks (that's a compliment!). What do you look for in a dancer?
I look for unique people. The dancers in my company are all very different from each other in size and height and qualities. I look for people who are immensely smart and intuitive. The speed with which we create dances is essential to me as an artist. I look for dancers who are comfortable with that kind of a ride, who can hand me back ideas as soon as I throw them out and can match those ideas with ideas of their own. It's a beautiful, liberal, collaborative creative process. When I find people I'm attracted to as dancers and thinkers, I try to find ways to incorporate them into the work that we do or hold on to them in some way until I have room for them in the company. If they look like people you might see at Starbucks, that's completely intentional. The work I create is about humanity, so I look for dancers that are people.

Doug Varone and Dancers will perform at Ferst Center on Saturday March 5 at 8 pm. The program also includes “Castles” (2004) set to waltzes by Prokofiev and “Lux” (2006) set to a pulsing score by Phillip Glass. For more information, visit Ferst Center or call 404-894-9600

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