Nothing Left to Lose

The Changing Nature of Freedom

Most of Varone's dances are less narrative than this, but they all—the dark pieces as well as the deliciously funny Bel Canto—tell of unfulfillment. The movement, as luscious as Duncan's, as full of curves and suspensions as José Limón's (Varone danced in his company), may suddenly freeze, as in Agora, where Jane Cox's direly beautiful lighting and the crackling in Julia Wolfe's score suggest apocalypse. As the fine new Tomorrow begins, Adriane Fang (an exceptionally sensitive dancer) moves closely, tentatively around Gwen Welliver; when she drops into a pose, she immediately jolts slightly out of it as if thinking she's made a mistake, then settles again. Eddie Taketa and Merceditas Manago dart their limbs into the intimate negative spaces formed by each other's bodies; when he leaps to crouch on top of her, the firm contact is startling. Fragrant songs by Reynaldo Hahn from the turn of the last century intensify the poignancy of the work.

Some dances are primarily fluid, some, like the gripping trio Eclipse, are stifled, muted in tone. In all of them you see the same tender, non-connecting gestures—the hand that brushes the air above a shoulder—and a physical language of ambivalence: the gathering followed by the tossing away, the snatching that dissolves, the startles and shrugs, the soft flailing, the bold leaps and melts into the floor. Before Welliver leaves the recumbent crowd at the end of Tomorrow, she lies back down for a second, perhaps wanting to remember how that stillness felt.

Free to be you and me: Isadora Duncan
photo: Bettmann/Corbis
Free to be you and me: Isadora Duncan

Because of the constant interplay of reach and recoil, I often lose the focus of Varone's dances before they end, but they're as rich as they are troubling. Freedom's no longer an unmitigated joy.

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