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On Stage

'Deconstructing English,' Online and Onstage

By Lisa Traiger
Special to The Washington Post
Friday, October 29, 2004; Page WE22

"I LOVE SHARING my process with anyone who is interested," choreographer Doug Varone wrote in an online journal, or blog, back in August as he embarked on a first for himself as a dancemaker. Known for his ability to reveal the inner landscapes of the human heart through the most common of everyday gestures, Varone is also exposing his own ups and downs as a choreographer. Friday's world premiere, "Deconstructing English," commissioned by the Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center for Doug Varone and Dancers, is the subject of an intimate weekly blog that lays bare Varone's creative process -- its highs and lows, and his roundabout way of getting from the seed of an idea to the finished product.

"When the University of Maryland approached me about doing a blog," Varone admitted last week as he was making final adjustments to the piece, "I had to research it and find out exactly what a blog was."

Doug Varone and Dancers will perform "Deconstructing English," inspired by J.S. Bach's "English Suites." The score has been overlaid with sound effects and original music. (Phil Knott)

When he realized he could work through his choreographic issues online as "Deconstructing English" was being shaped in the studio, Varone eagerly accepted the opportunity. His blog, with its 11 weekly installments, can be found at www.claricesmithcenter.blogspot.com. "I'm always trying to find ways to open the doors to what it is that [choreographers] do, what it is that I do," he said. "The art form that I work in is something that we oddly enough live with every day, but I think for so many people it still seems foreign," he added, alluding to his belief that everyone who moves dances.

On the blog, Varone describes his inspiration -- J.S. Bach's "English Suites" -- as the jumping-off point. His elegant ruminations on the structure, musical complexity and counterpoint in the compositions became his own creative challenge, not merely to match and mimic the music but to take it apart and attain a greater artistic statement. "When I'm working with a score," Varone explained, "I allow it to tell me the direction I need to move in." His online entries discuss both Bach's music and the choreographer's collaboration with composer David Van Tieghem, whose contribution will transform Bach's score through a deconstruction process, the same process Varone himself used in the studio with his nine dancers.

Van Tieghem, in working with the original Bach score, has overlaid other sound effects and his own music. At some points the Bach fades out altogether and a new composition begins. Varone, as a choreographer, has been following the same process: pinpointing some of his dance movements and adding to, subtracting from and reconfiguring them in similar ways.

"I set out in June to make a work. And I did. I made a terrific dance to 16 Bach pieces," Varone said, "but for me, that was the beginning point." He could very well have stopped there, but instead he kept at it, whittling and carving away, adding layers and nuances to the movement, working with video artist Wendall Harrington, costume designer James Schuette and lighting designer Michael Chybowski.

Along with the essential themes of the "English Suites" transposed and reinterpreted by Van Tieghem, the work enters new territory. Figuring out how to deconstruct both the dance and the process would lead him to something greater, Varone said. "I knew I would learn more for myself as an artist. The dancers would learn more and, I think, that the audience would also learn more from it."

The constant process of creating is ever present as it gets filtered through Varone's writing online. It is hard work, he wrote three weeks in: "It never stops . . . your brain never stops thinking. Never stops creating. . . . Dance making is a lot like writing music, there are themes and variations that you want to keep exploring and tying together."

DOUG VARONE AND DANCERS -- Friday at 8 and Sunday at 3 at the Kay Theatre, Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center, University of Maryland, Route 193 and Stadium Drive, College Park. 301-405-2787.

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