Choreographer Doug Varone likes to keep his dancers busy. He tends to set the stage with lots of eye-popping activity happening at once. Movement is simultaneously unleashed in multiple directions, often within the same body, loose limbs flung one way, the torso and head another. Arms windmill and slice, then softly float as if drifting through water. Legs knife and swivel as if hip sockets are made of rubber, carrying the dancers through mercurial shifts of weight.
With his 2006 “Lux,” this aesthetic was breathtaking, a brilliant opener for the Doug Varone and Dancers’ program of three Boston premieres at the ICA Friday night (presented by World Music/CRASHarts). Set to Philip Glass’s surging “The Light,” movement didn’t so much develop as unspool in rippling streams that ebbed and flowed, overlapping and entwining with a lovely interplay between groundedness and breezy buoyance. Varone’s eight superb dancers gave a stunning, almost nonstop performance with visceral power and lyrical fluidity, yet they also connected as people, a community coming together, drifting apart. Hands pushed and pulled, supporting, setting phrases into motion. It was a testament to the visual allure of the choreography, the dancers’ extraordinary skill, and Robert Wierzel’s deft lighting that the work was halfway through before we noticed the glowing moon projected low in a dark sky was slowly rising.
The new “ReComposed” used much of the same aesthetic but far less effectively. Conceptually, the work is intriguing, using movement to re-create and reimagine some of the vibrant pastels of American visual artist Joan Mitchell. But that relationship is difficult to see. As dancers spilled across the stage, Varone’s predilection for controlled chaos just looked messy, abetted by a raucous, overly loud, and percussively harsh score by Michael Gordon that so annoyed the ear it distracted the eye. The work was most effective when it winnowed to smaller forces and the noise quieted for the briefest of respites.
In contrast, Varone’s solo, “The Fabulist,” was lucidly structured, the tone set by David Lang’s hauntingly beautiful “Death Speaks.” A commanding, charismatic performer, Varone played off the fluid style his dancers do so well, but on his older, muscular body, movement had a weighted gravitas. A viscous quality was punctuated by sharp angles and awkward contortions as he danced in and out of pools of light. He seemed to spin bits of stories about love and loss. A halting step, hands cradling the small of the back, an arm pinned to the side — all seemed to suggest the slow ravage of age. At one point, he seemed to frantically clear away cobwebs. But by the end, he was in control, a snap of his fingers extinguishing the light.
Doug Varone and Dancers
Presented by World Music/CRASHarts at the Institute of Contemporary Art, Friday
Karen Campbell can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.