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Flash Review 2, 12-4: Varone's Secret Stories
Shadows of Our Forgotten Ancestors

By Susan Yung
Copyright 2000 Susan Yung

Doug Varone has transported dance theater to a new level with his company's production of "Neither," at the Lower East Side Tenement Museum through December 17. Varone, who directed, wrote and choreographed the work, has created an intensified performative experience for the audience by not simply casting us as first-hand witnesses to an unfolding melodrama, but integrating us into the performance. Seamlessly thought-out and executed, the production is deeply moving both viscerally and emotionally.

The audience, limited in size to 20, was led through the building's rabbit warren of tiny, haunted rooms to the third floor. Largely empty but for some props, the shabby building exhaled countless tales from its peeling paint and creaking floorboards, and played a central role in the story. We were encouraged to move about through the performance -- as close to or far away from the dancers as we felt comfortable with. As we entered, two groups of dancers (nine total) stood in silent darkness for a few moments as we arranged ourselves around them; one group swayed in tandem in a circle in a private ritual.

Scenes alternated between dialogue and movement. The small size of the rooms acted as crucibles for the performers and the viewers, heightening every sensation. We were often leaned upon by the dancers, or manipulated physically. The action flowed from room to room, at times very quickly. At certain moments, through interior picture windows, I was able to watch three scenes simultaneously by positioning myself properly. As told prior to curtain, like film directors or cinematographers we were invited to frame our own versions of the show. While I was acutely aware of being manipulated on many levels, I felt a liberating sense of unfettered power.

My one regret, in retrospect, was that the skilled dancers were limited by the cramped spaces. That never crossed my mind during the show; getting whipped in the face by Eddie Taketa's perfect hair seemed action enough. Still, the dancers managed to execute abstracts of Varone's fluid phrases, mixed in with a good deal of arm and upper body gesture. Some of the ensemble scenes were bone-chilling at such close proximity.

The story, the secret of which I'll not divulge, hinged on the superb acting abilities of the whole cast, but particularly Nancy Bannon, in the process of being interviewed by Frances Craig, who ingeniously played the fictional and real stage manager (or at least for certain cues). Music by Michael Nyman, Charlemagne Palestine, and J.S. Bach created an aural backdrop and provided some sense of structure and point of reference. The precise lighting scheme by David Ferri included exterior spots as well as bare-bulb chandeliers, and Liz Prince designed the elegant streetwear costumes.

In "Neither," Varone walks the right side of a fine line between dramatic impetus and outright manipulation. By neglecting no detail, he has knitted reality and fiction into a production that seems to have created a new dimension in contemporary dance.

Dancers were Nancy Bannon, Frances Craig, Daniel Charon, Larry Hahn, Merceditas Manago, Eddie Taketa, Adriane Fang, Keith Johnson, and Faye Driscoll.

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