Four well-known choreographers to perform new solos

Jul. 22, 2014 @ 06:13 PM

The American Dance Festival program “On Their Bodies” offers a rare opportunity to see four award-winning, male choreographers, with their own companies, perform their new solos on the same program. Performances take place Wednesday at Durham Performing Arts Center.

In recent telephone interviews, these choreographers, Stephen Petronio,58; Doug Varone, 57; Ronald K. Brown, 48; and Shen Wei, 45, offer previews.
First, they spoke of their initial responses when ADF director Jodee Nimreichter approached them about this program. The ADF commissioned solos by Petronio, Brown and Varone; Shen performs a new solo that premiered this spring in New York.
“I laughed,” Petronio said. “I don’t do solos much anymore. What do I have to contribute as a 50-something man?” he asked himself.
Varone also laughed because he has not performed onstage in a number of years. “Why would I return to a place I willingly gave up; it’s hard work,” he added.
Shen and Brown, who still sometimes perform their own solos, did not hesitate. “I said, ‘Of course.’ These are three other choreographers whose work I admire,” Brown said. “I do love to dance but I’m dancing less with my company. So, it’s a gift to me to dance this solo at ADF,” Brown added.
Shen’s response: “Wow, this is a really fun program to be a part of. I’m looking forward to seeing this program myself.”
Solos by Brown and Petronio are related to the deaths of their fathers.
Petronio’s father died two years ago. In his solo, “Big Daddy,” he dances, speaks and reads from his autobiography, “Confessions of a Motion Addict,” excerpts about his father.
“The solo is really about my father. I thought it would be a great way to honor him,” Petronio said. “He was a truck driver. He was very proud of what I went on to do and supported me. It’s a beautiful and emotional way to spend time with my father,” he said of creating and performing this solo.
Brown’s father died last year. As he was trying to deal with losing his father, a friend told him, “’It feels like your heart is broken open. So, your capacity to love is greater than ever,’” Brown said. “What if I could live my life with that understanding?” he asked himself.
He dedicates his new solo, “Through Time and Culture,” to his father and others.  “Because, those people, who loved me, have allowed me to do these things I love to do,” Brown said. 
He begins his solo by walking, counter-clockwise in a circle to call up the ancestors. “In Africa, when an elephant dies, the elephants gather and walk, in a circle, counter-clockwise, around the body,” Brown said.
Shen describes his solo, “Variations,” as physically challenging. “I definitely have to go to a place that allows me to feel free, relaxed and at the same time have to go through the difficult steps. It (this meditative state) supports me. It’s the essence of the entire piece,” he added.
Shen does have some concerns about performing his solo at DPAC. (Judson Church, where his solo premiered, is an intimate space in which the audience sits on four sides). “It’s a big challenge for us. It’s not easy to do a solo in such a large house. You have to have a way to communicate to so many people,” Shen said.
Varone titled his solo, “The Fabulist,” (someone who tells fables). “It’s about a storyteller, which is what I do,” Varone said. “I wanted to do a very intimate solo.”
He performs it in five moving lights – “almost like a film, in a way,” he added.
Creating this solo – something he thought he would never do again – has had a profound affect on him.  “I learned, through this process, that I want and need to inhabit my own material. I really missed being the dancer in the dance,” he said.
He also learned that at his age, he definitely has something to offer. “The physicality wavers and something else enters. There’s a willingness to expose that and embody where I am as an artist now, where my body is. What I’ve learned is that this will be a new jumping off point for me and for the company. It was a huge shift for me – and a creative one. This dance will change the way I work,” Varone said.

: The American Dance Festival presents “On Their Bodies,” a program of solos.
WHEN: 8 p.m. Wednesday.
WHERE: Durham Performing Arts Center.
TICKETS: Call 919-680-2787 or go to