The Dance of Discovery

Three dancers roll around the empty stage, pushing their backs gently against the Marley floor as they stretch their arms wide above their heads in silent unison. Another one enters, and then another, sinking quietly into the forming circle with easy familiarity. Doug Varone springs to his feet and ambles towards the sound system, turning up the volume on a catchy Motown tune that fills the sleepy theatre with infectious energy.

“Today is all about making it through the door,” he reassures them, and their shoulders soften in response.

It’s Day One of Varone’s much-anticipated DANCEworks residency, and the air is thick with anticipation. Varone has stood here several times before-on a vacant Lobero stage and on the precipice of creation–as a resident artist for Dianne Vapnek’s SUMMERDANCE Santa Barbara in the late nineties and early aughts–and though this might be his initiation into the DANCEworks culture, he knows exactly what he’s here to do.

“I came here to deliver,” he said matter-of-factly, “and I get to live out a longtime obsession in the process. What could be more exciting than that?”

Enthralled by the 1961 movie version of West Side Story, Varone’s vision of casting aside its iconic narrative and isolating Leonard Bernstein’s musical score down to its kinetic essence for the creation of a fresh piece that, “draws from the structure and formula of the score,” is a personal challenge Varone has been eager to explore, but one he’s not navigating alone.

“We all came here with a pre-conceived relationship to the story, so this is about challenging ourselves to stay in the present,” said Whitney Dufrene, one of eight company dancers who left the bustling confines of Manhattan and Brooklyn to dive heart first into this month-long endeavor.

“We all know how important West Side Story is to Doug,” added Jake Bone. “To be vessels to his creative process is a really exciting opportunity.”

Varone cues the music as the stage doors slide open, and sunlight pours in to a chorus of oohs and aahs. “We’ve got palm trees in the house,” exclaims Aya Wilson, and everyone laughs with delight. 

When the music begins, Brad Beakes explodes into movement, his limbs slicing through the choreography with captivating grace. The energy builds as each dancer punctuates the sound of brass and percussion with shapely abstractions, angling across the stage with playful ferocity.

Varone leans forward in his chair and shakes his iced coffee in approval. “No Jets, no Sharks,” he chuckles mischievously, and the dancers nod in agreement.

“Doug has a magical way of putting it all together,” says Beakes. “I can’t wait to meet this dance.”

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