A person who sits for a conventional tarot reading knows several things. If that Rider-Waite deck hasn’t changed in the century since it was crafted, the archetypes depicted in its major arcana have basically been fixed for a half-millennium. No one snuck a card in last week depicting your favorite uncle or your most detested boss; a photo of your first love, your first car, or your first beer isn’t going to dramatically appear face up as the cards are dealt.
And yet. A finite cast of characters and symbols set on 78 pieces of paper have the potential to tell somewhere north of 1 trillion different stories, depending on how you lay them down. While the concepts on those cards have been set for some time now, when you change their order and juxtaposition, something happens: the message in them changes as well.
Choreographer DOUG VARONE has no deck of cards on stage tonight at Stewart Theater. He does have 22 short dances, which he’s been arranging and rearranging since he finished creating them last summer at the Bates Dance Festival in Maine. The collection’s name is CHAPTERS FROM A BROKEN NOVEL. But as Varone has worked with the dances in the months since, he’s found that every time he alters the order of the “chapters” in the work, new — and sometimes radically different — stories emerge.
“What’s fascinating is that, by shifting where a chapter fits in the unfolding of events, the dramaturgy becomes completely different,” he noted when we spoke last week. “When you see someone who’s been involved in a duet later in a solo—if you reverse them, the information is different.”
“That’s been the great journey in this piece, figuring out these different configurations and how they affect an audience. One thing I’ve found is that…I never lose.” Varone laughs. “No matter the order I put them in, there’s always potency.”
In some settings, his company performs all of the sections in an evening-length work; here, they’ll display an arrangement of 13 or 14 in a program with LUX, a piece regional audiences saw at the American Dance Festival in 2008. (After their show in Raleigh, Varone’s company willl present a briefer grouping of solos and duets from the collection during performances in Asheville on Feb. 9-10.)
The literary reference in the title should come as little surprise for a choreographer long renowned for placing sharply-crafted characters and theatrically resonant interpersonal narratives on stage—without his performers ever saying a single word. True, some of Varone’s works, like Lux, are abstract explorations of velocity, arc and kinetic bliss. But when he takes up people’s stories, his work is easily comparable to that of Raymond Carver and Joyce Carol Oates. Small wonder I’ve previously referred to Varone as one of my favorite short story writers—who’s simply working in a different medium.
With evocative chapter titles like “Spilling the Contents,” “The Ghosts of Insects,” “Playing in the Shadows,” “Glass” and “Egalite,”—and only several hundred million permutations possible among them—Varone could be mining this particular vein of inspiration for some time to come.
Showtime’s 8 p.m. tonight at Stewart Theater; tickets are available at (919) 515-1100.