Award-winning dancer, choreographer, and director Doug Varone has made quite a name for himself since graduating from Purchase College in 1978. Varone has choreographed Broadway plays, as well as the Patrick Swayze-helmed film, One Last Dance, and directed four separate productions at the Metropolitan Opera. He also produced The Bottomland for the lauded PBS special Dance in America — not to mention spending the last three decades as founder and director of his own company, Doug Varone and Dancers. On November 5, the group brings its talent to the Purchase College Performing Arts Center. We caught up with Varone recently, to get a better sense of the man behind the masterful moves.
How did you first fall in love with dance?
I grew up watching MGM musicals on television and wanted to be Fred Astaire, so I studied tap for a few years when I was kid, and that was my foray. I wanted to do Broadway musicals, and luckily I had a really progressive program in high school. I went to Purchase and began my real dance training there and entered the contemporary-dance world soon after I graduated.
Having worked in everything from opera to fashion, how do you feel your background in dance informs your wide body of work?
I feel as if whenever I enter the other worlds I enjoy working in, I bring that knowledge, that vision, and that way of knowing how bodies in space can tell stories to those different fields. The work I do has an emotional edge and a dramatic edge, for the most part, and I have keen sense of dramaturgy, so working in theater and opera feels second nature to me. I love the challenge of entering into a new form and figuring it out both from within and from the outside.
What drives your prolific output?
I feel really grateful for the opportunities I’ve had, and I feel the drive to constantly learn and constantly reinvent what I do pushes me — even if that means failing. I think it is important to embrace these challenges. I try to encourage the students I work with to go to places they’ve never been, even if it’s something they are scared of doing, because you never know what’s possible unless you make the attempt.
What can audience members expect from your upcoming show?
We are sharing a work called ReComposed, which was created and premiered two years ago, during the American Dance Festival. The impetus behind that was discovering Joan Mitchell’s abstract pastel drawings, which I completely fell in love with and began to see my own dances in. A lot of my group work has a complexity to it and a sense of organized chaos in it, and when I saw her pastels, I felt like I had found my twin. So, I set about creating works to her pastels and finding the energized sensibilities in them, as well as their emotional density.