Doug Varone's new dance work explores a dark side of humanity. | Dance + Live Performance | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper

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Doug Varone's new dance work explores a dark side of humanity.



Known for their delicately fluid and athletic movement, New York choreographer Doug Varone's dance works pulse with the full spectrum of human emotion. In the award-winning choreographer's latest work, "Alchemy," Varone explores the anguish and suffering resulting from the conflicts in Middle East. The new piece is included in a Sat., Nov. 22, Pittsburgh Dance Council show by Doug Varone and Dancers at the Byham Theater.

Inspired by composer Steve Reich's Daniel Variations (2006), which incorporates text from the Biblical book of Daniel along with the words of slain Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl, the 30-minute "Alchemy" is a powerful statement on humanity.
Its world premiere, in October at The University of Akron, rivetingly evoked cruelty, violence and strife, though perhaps overdoing it in the repetition of such imagery.

Eight dancers took turns as both aggressors and victims in scenes of brutality and hopelessness. They were shown beating and kicking one another, fleeing from aggressors and, most powerfully, being herded into a small group and forced to kneel with their hands clasped behind heads. While none of the images in the work approached the gruesome real-life images of Pearl being beheaded by his extremist captors in 2002, they nonetheless recalled countless real-life images seen in media reports about the region.

Presented alongside those dark images were other moving depictions of sacrifice and compassion that led to a hopeful ending.

As in Akron, the Nov. 22 program at the Byham will include two more Varone works: 2000's "Tomorrow" and 2006's "Lux."

Set to several ethereal operatic songs by Reynaldo Hahn, the 28-minute "Tomorrow" explores relationships between its six dancers as they come together in various couplings and as a group. The work opens with two female dancers moving in close proximity, brushing against one another and dropping into crouched poses. It is followed by another pairing featuring movement initiated by the toss of an arm or kick of a leg that takes the dancers' bodies in the direction of that initial thrust. Overall, the atmosphere created in "Tomorrow" is one of soothing calm. Dancers' bodies give into gravity and dip and flow across the stage with quiet ease.

An embodiment of Varone's signature flowing movement style, "Lux" is an energetic work for eight dancers costumed in black and set to Philip Glass' composition "The Light." A projected moon rises along a rear stage curtain, suggesting a nocturnal setting, as dancers jog, tumble and bound backward across the stage, gobbling up space as they go. Delivered in broad strokes, the 22-minute "Lux" expands and contracts with unconstrained brilliance and is one of Varone's very best works.


Doug Varone and Dancers 8:30 p.m. Sat., Nov. 22. Byham Theater, 101 Sixth St., Downtown. $19-40. 412-456-6666 or

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