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By LAUREN KAY
Now in its 24th year, Doug Varone and Dancers continues to be a preeminent modern company in the New York City dancescape. Varone creates dramatic, energetic pieces that include sweeping, abstract movement and familiar, gestural components, and that combination allows him to investigate both simple human activity and ethereal subjects. "I try to create work that speaks about who we are as people," Varone says. "It may be gut-wrenching or humorous, but either way, I look to allow people to recognize aspects of their own lives within the dance."
From March 15-20, the spunky troupe is bringing Chapters from a Broken Novel to the Joyce Theatre for its NYC premiere. With live music by composer David Van Tieghem, the piece is a collection of 20 short works that are loosely woven together. "Even though I had created these dances separately, I knew I wanted short stories under one book cover," Varone explains. "When I linked them together, I realized I had subconsciously created alliances. Certain duet partners and soloists kept popping up. So a lot of the characters are interrelated, without being specific."
Stylistically, the pieces veer from the realism of "title riot," about grooving in front of a mirror, to the suggestiveness of "The Final Proverb," a haunting exploration of arcs and floor work. But whatever the approach, Eddie Taketa is usually at the center. A company members for 17 years, Taketa is one of Varone’s most trusted interpreters and assistants. In a section of Chapters entitled "Funeral," it’s obvious why: Taketa lies facing away from the audience, his compact, muscled frame completely still, but buzzing with energy. Throughout the minute-long piece, he moves from lying down to crouching to standing on one leg to standing, never turning toward the crowd. The slow-motion section bristles with Taketa’s Tai Chi-like ability to shift the energy around him in a steady flow.
Discussing "Funeral," Varone says: "A previous quartet had left Eddie lying on the floor alone. I instructed him to slowly stand as if he could drag the earth with him and that’s exactly what he did. It was magical. We haven’t changed it since. Eddie knows how to accommodate the choreographer’s needs without commenting, and that’s very rare. He has an incredible sense of maturity and class in his artistry."
The Hilo, Hawaii native was originally a science pro. However, while he was taking engineering classes at the University of Hawaii, Manoa, he enrolled in a modern and ballet class. "I saw my focus shift from the lab to the theatre," he recalls. "Immediately, I felt a connection to aesthetic movement. There was a physics sensibility to ballet that excited me and modern dance created the universe in which it laid for me."
When he moved to New York City in 1982, he had become fully entrenched in the dance world and was set on a career in the arts. It wasn’t long before he was snatched up by Robert Small to dance in his company, followed by seven years with modern master Murray Louis in Murray Louis and Nikolais Dance Company. After that, he spent a year with Lar Lubovitch. “Fortunately, I was a male dancer, so I got tons of encouragement in the dance world,” Taketa recalls.
After a few years of doing project-based work, Taketa auditioned for Varone’s young company. "Doug is an instinctive artist and allows himself to create openly,” he says. "Though I may not have known it at the time, I understood that that was a central focus of the work, creating movement that starts as kinetic energy versus beginning with the shell and shape. I immediately connected to that and it felt like home to me. It still does."
Before working with him, Varone had watched Taketa dance for years and was interested by "the fact that Eddie is like two dancers in one body. He has a lushness and generosity of movement where he is able to expand his limbs fully in space to almost extend time. But he also has a quicksilver lightness, as if there is a rubber-band trigger underneath him when a fast task is needed."
Though back surgery sidelined Taketa in 2004, the experience helped reinvigorate his artistic passion for dancing and teaching. "Mentally and physically, new things are opening up again,” he says. "Rather than the surgery ending my career, I’ve enjoyed a sort of renaissance. Things feel new in an unfamiliar way for me, and that’s thrilling."
Lauren Kay is a dancer and writer based in New York City
Photo of Eddie Taketa (holding Alex Springer) by Phil Knott