DOUG VARONE AND DANCERS
June 6, 2022
In West Side Story, composer Leonard Bernstein uses what, in Western music, is understood as a dissonant
harmonic interval to aurally symbolize the plot’s tensions. Alternatively, this same interval (the tritone) is a common
feature of the Jewish music Bernstein grew up hearing. In Somewhere, choreographer Doug Varone exploits a similar
duality in the score itself as an (excerpted and instrumental) whole: Yes, it is the music from West Side Story, a
groundbreaking musical adaptation of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, but it is also just music – music that is really
fun to dance to.
The concept is daring, considering the savage territoriality of New York’s musical theatre fandom; however,
when one considers Varone’s interests and track record as a choreographer, it makes perfect sense. Varone is
clearly aware of this, and has offered many an Easter egg that prevent Bernstein’s orchestral selections from being
totally divorced from their source material.
The exposed brick of The Joyce stage’s back wall immediately conjures
vintage NYC alleyways. The costumes read as pajama variants of 50’s street gang-wear. Aya Wilson, who opens the
work, exudes Anita’s aura. Speaking as a musical theatre lover myself, this effort to include aesthetic handholds for
purists prevents the work from fully achieving its simple (and pure) purpose of repurposing.
Still, Varone succeeds at a symbiotic relationship between mediums – he gets to choreograph an iconic
score, and West Side’s musical details we either take for granted or overlook altogether get their chance in the
limelight. Varone achieves this with his tried-and-true method of visualizing musical texture, often assigning bodies as
direct correlates to instruments and lines.
The raucousness of “The Dance at the Gym” is allowed to be fully
embodied as such, rather than as a utilitarian accompaniment to an evening social at a time when people socially
danced in a certain way, as heightened by Jerome Robbins. We forget the musical gunshots interspersed in the
chromatic fugue of “Cool” when dancers simply follow Bernstein’s dizzying entrances. We can (and do) still revere
Robbins; there is simply more we can do.
The challenge to strip away and replace a score’s primary association allows Somewhere to succeed at
what Rise attempted in 1993 (and as this program’s finale). John Adams’ Fearful Symmetries is stuffed with fun
sounds and grooves, but it lacks the overall cohesion and dance-readiness guaranteed by distilling a hit Broadway
score into defined selections (quite literally “symphonic dances”).
The same trademark-Varone swings and swells of
sprawling movement, slicing through space in shimmering swirls that somehow come to crystalline order are
relatively at odds with and at the mercy of a long piece of music concerned more with its own formalism than riding
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY -- Jonathan Matthews-Guzman