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From Doug Varone: creating Chapters from a Broken Novel

I have spent the past two weeks walking around the Bates College campus in a constant state of memory. This is my 6th time here at the Festival with my Company and a HUGE body of work has been created in practically every studio venue. Possession (1994) was created in Chase Lounge, Momentary Order (1992) in Alumni, Castles (2003) in Muskie, Sacre (2003) in New Life, Tomorrow (1999) in Gannet, Polonaise (1999) in the Middle School, Mercury (1996) in Merrill.

Now I can add Chapters from a Broken Novel to that list.

Chapters began its creative life about a year ago at our annual Summer Intensive at Purchase College. In many ways, it has served as a conduit to explore all the different facets that intrigue me choreographically. I love creating dances that explore extremes: large and physical, minute and detailed, emotionally complex. Chapters is an opportunity for me to create an entire world of these dances under one cover. And the creative journey for the past year has been exactly what I needed as an artist; a way of delving into what I know, and ultimately finding new methods of exposing that.

Each of the 22 chapters is based on a short quotation or thought and each chapter has a title that is evocative of that quote. They range in length from 22 seconds to 7 minutes. Individually, most can stand on their own as separate dances and they were specifically made that way. When placed together, they have the potential to imply a narrative and for me this has been the truly thrilling aspect of the creation process.

This dance can be ANYTHING I want it to be.

How rare to make a work that can be accessed in a variety of ways and never lose its integrity. As a full evening length work, the dance runs approximately 80 minutes. It can be played with or without intermission. A 50-minute version can also be created that has fluid continuity to it; as well, a 30-minute version of selected Chapters can share the stage with other repertory works. Finally, many of these dances can be seen as separate units.

The past two weeks at Bates has been a great opportunity to hone the evening. I am continuing to make edits and give detail to each of the Chapters. I love this part of the process, as I generally work in outline for a majority of a creative process and wait until I am ready to craft the dance completely. More often than not, information later in the process defines ideas and motifs that I created earlier.

The days are long here but very inspiring, as always. I am teaching from 9-12:30 every day. Then I hop on my trusty Fuji bike and head off for a quick lunch. Rehearsals with the Company begin at 1:30 and end at 6pm. We are rehearsing in the gym at New Life, a Community Church down the road from the main campus. The space is incredibly generous and the creative vibe has been wonderful. Each day, we are visited by young children who have come to New Life to play at the Toy Library in the basement. I love watching their faces (and their parent’s) when they step into the room to watch the dance and dancers. There is an innocence and truth in people who are not regularly exposed to our lifestyle, and it reminds me daily of the unique role we play as artists.

We also get to play with Weekly, a year old Great Dane puppy that lives at the Center. He is the size of a small horse and has no idea he is that large. Lovely to watch him navigate.

My composer, David Van Teighem is still hard at work finishing up some notes I gave him this weekend. This has been an amazing collaboration and the dialogue of what is musically needed and when, has been a great learning lesson for me. The score he has written is incredibly diverse, each chapter sounding like a different world, and this has sent my imagination reeling.

As we head back into the studio tomorrow, there are at least three more sections that I want to strip away and clean out. Then we’ll show the work on Thursday evening.

More later.