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    2017-2018 reviews:



    Broken heartland

    Doug Varone and Dancers' "The Bottomland" looks like a wholesome celebration of American community, until traces of darkness and destruction creep in.


    At first glance, "The Bottomland," an evening of dance theater based on an imagined backwoods community in rural Kentucky, may seem totally out of place in sleek, stylized New York City. Plain and unadorned, Doug Varone and Dancers snap their suspenders and ruffle their cotton skirts to a string of Patty Loveless tunes. Our beloved Doug Varone has gone country western and slapped white wholesome goodness all over it! But what seems initially to be a conventional depiction of heartland America later transforms into a disturbing journey through the caverns of the soul. With heart wrenching clarity, Mr. Varone shows us that we New Yorkers may have more in common than we may think with our rural counterparts in this bold, emotional tour de force.

    Dancers: Doug Varone and Dancers.
    Lowes theatre
    34 street manhattan NY
    Dec. 4-22, 2002

    Part one incorporates a striking video backdrop shot on location in Mammoth Cave National Park. The dancers stand with stern defiance looking almost as weathered as the stone that surrounds them. A young woman dances shyly with an older man. A happy couple contort mouths and torsos in a comedic gestural conversation. A cheery church revival inspires exuberant, infectious dance. A community takes shape unfolding simultaneously onstage and onscreen.

    Combining video with live performance can be tricky as it is often difficult to effectively direct the audience's attention between the two. In this case, both meld into each other as the sheer size of the video screen provokes a feeling of immersion, the background enveloping the foreground. With frequent closeups on a screen of this magnitude, however, the video threatens to overwhelm the scale of live performance. The larger-than-life footage is ironically more real than real life. But even while daunting at times, the cave video harkens to an interior landscape of grandiose proportions. Perhaps more is happening than we suspectĚ


    Part two abandons the video for three-dimensional rolling houses. A terrific situational device, the uniform farm houses, designed by Allen Moyer, divide public space and draw us into the private lives of each family. Here we find that this community, so simple and happy on the outside, is actually plagued with betrayal, rejection and immense loneliness. Walls of humiliation, racial prejudice and abandonment divide relationships, breed bitterness, and produce a community of strangers, together but alone. Strangely familiar, I might add, to what many experience in New York.

    Daniel Charon gives an impassioned performance as the local preacher who, ignited by fire and brimstone, alternately cares for his community and leads to its destruction. One moment reconciling husband and wife, the preacher is the main culprit in inciting a racial riot the next. Adriane Fang and Eddie Taketa give riveting performances as Asian immigrants who are treated as cultural outcasts and violently stripped of both clothing and dignity at the climax of act two. Unlike his previous work, Varone does not leave much to the imagination in these theatrical eruptions.

    Doug Varone is a master craftsman well-known for his ability to mold movement and gesture into intensely powerful human landscapes. Rarely, though, has Varone tackled such a linear narrative as "The Bottomland." The relative abstraction of prior creations has ensured an exceedingly broad emotional reach. While clear characters and story arc may make his work more accessible to some, they detract from its overall ability to speak. Perhaps I'm a purist, but to me Varone's craft is confined by these structures and loses some of its spark.

    DECEMBER 21, 2002

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