A Tarot deck of dances? Doug Varone's Chapters from a Broken Novel, tonight at NC State

Posted by Byron Woods on Sat, Feb 5, 2011 at 10:54 AM

from Doug Varones Chapters from a Broken Novel
  • from Doug Varone's "Chapters from a Broken Novel"
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.

Behind-the-scenes videos describing the creation of two chapters, “Ron Tells the Truth,” and “The Ghosts of Insects,” are on Varone’s company website. Further video excerpts from the work are here.

Showtime's 8 p.m. tonight at Stewart Theater; tickets are available at (919) 515-1100.

Comments (2)

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Dear Playa: Yes, I know there are a number of other decks besides the Rider-Waite. I also happen to know that gaming with tarot cards predates the divination practices we are aware of -- by roughly three centuries or so. (I actually learned a lot about the subject while I was doing the research on this piece. It _was_ interesting.)

But this article is actually about a new artwork by Doug Varone. See, he made these dances, and he's discovered that they actually tell different stories depending on the order in which they're arranged.

Kind of like what happens when people do -- and I quote -- "a conventional tarot reading."

I'm sorry, but no matter how near and dear the subject is to your heart, Varone's dance has _nothing_ to do with what happens when people are playing card games.

Realizing that folks have different opinions on various decks and practices concerning the Tarot, I tried to frame my intro so as not to offend -- choosing only the most commonly known deck, and referring only to the most commonplace type of tarot reading.

Apparently, though, I've fallen into yet another mainstream media conspiracy -- unwittingly, I must assure you. This one apparently seeks to hide all knowledge of a card game from a public that desperately needs to know.

I gotta say: That's a new one. Sorry I fell prey to it. I hope this makes amends:

Any readers who want further info on what actually is the pretty vivid history of tarot gaming should consult these sources, for starters:


Thanks for reading, Playa.

Posted by Byron Woods, Contributing Editor, Live Arts on 02/05/2011 at 6:39 PM

A person who plays games with tarot cards also knows a few things. That there are other tarot decks besides the Rider Waite deck and that game playing and not tarot reading is actually the intended use of tarot cards. It would be a good thing if the mainstream media would show the whole truth about tarot cards and how they were really made for games instead of misleading people into believing they are only used for tarot reading.

Posted by tarotgameplayer on 02/05/2011 at 1:32 PM
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