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American Dance Festival

Doug Varone and Dancers in 'Home' and 'Lux'
Cleo Parker Robinson Dance Ensemble in Donald McKayle's 'Games'
Ronald K. Brown: Evidence, A Dance Company in 'For You' and 'Walking Out the Dark'

by Renée E. D'Aoust

Monday, July 7-Wednesday, July 9, 2008 -- Reynolds Industries Theater, Durham, North Carolina

Doug Varone and Dancers performed July 7-9, during the American Dance Festival’s 75th anniversary season, on a split bill program that included Ronald K. Brown’s Evidence, A Dance Company and the Cleo Parker Robinson Dance Ensemble in Donald McKayle’s “Games.”

A projected moon offered one kind of luminosity in Doug Varone’s elegant “Lux.”  Philip Glass’s “The Light,” a hypnotic score, provided another, surprisingly illuminating the individuality of the dancers, particularly Eddie Taketa, whose backward running somehow showed the forward passage of time.  Time might be one subject of Varone’s “Lux,”  yet while the moon rises, it never sets, so time isn’t everything.  The moon is also a circle reflecting Taketa’s first prescribed circle.  Through the understated, clean motion of his arm conjoined with his body arcing around the same geometric pattern, seven other dancers join, leave, and rejoin.  A lunge forward might be done alone or in tandem, fast or slow.  We see jumping jacks and jagged leaps.  Varone’s dancers exert extraordinary kinetic force.  No matter the forward motion, lusciousness remains.  With head arched up, Taketa’s final kiss to the right hand while the left arm opens becomes a gesture of gratitude.  Although Taketa leads, egalitarian forces are at play—this is community and the individual, a coming together and apart, without friction.

Friction abounds in Varone’s “Home,” a work created in 1988 but transferable to any era.  Peggy Baker and Varone execute the aftermath when vows have dissolved but the relationship has not been severed.  Dick Connette’s string score provides a yearning undertone, yet the dancers refuse to look at each other.  He stands, she follows:  both want to get away.  Familiarity sometimes breeds fury—a partner barely touches a shoulder or a finger.

Twelve dancers of Cleo Parker Robinson Dance Ensemble presented choreographer Donald McKayle’s classic 1951 “Games.”  Along with sung text, this is dance theatre about and using children’s games.  Childhood play ends in horror.  The formal arrangements feel like an important social message: our children are at risk.  It isn’t a cliché.

“For You” provided the opportunity to see Ronald K. Brown perform in his own work.  A parallel to Donny Hathaway’s vocal lament “A Song for You,” Brown shows the pulse of his heart by the rhythmic motion of hand to heart.  He reminds us that our ability to carry on in the face of loss is more important than our urge to flounder in grief.

The spoken word begins Brown’s “Walking Out the Dark.”  Alternating duets set to music by Philip Hamilton, Sweet Honey in the Rock, and Francisco Mora use a fusion of Afro-Caribbean movements and other styles to call and respond.  The isolation of the rib cage, high jumps, and hands pushed palm forward become dialogue, which is punctuated by a gentle backward fall.  That fall is a humble surrender.  We try to connect, but sometimes we simply don’t hear.  In a stunning final image, dirt pounds down on four prone dancers, signaling a metaphoric burial.

To approach a program with such variety, and importance, one can simply employ the same generosity that Doug Varone’s dancers display in “Lux.”  Think of those luminous gestures that circle and circle while gradually fading away.

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