The first time I saw Doug Varone’s choreography was at a fashion show, winter 1995. The designer was Geoffrey Beene, who cut clothes for the moving human body and wanted to show this in action. The cast was half dancers, half models. The stage was full of haze and shadow, side lights of mist. And the mood, the whirlwind attack of dancers dressed in belted mohair coats, suggested the woods, the wolf hour. The models, more ceremonial, were like urban druids in moonlight. It was fashion made unforgettable, because Varone created a frisson of story, with an understory of humanity. Whatever medium he works in—whether it’s opera at the Met, theater on Broadway, dances for his own company (Doug Varone and Dancers) or other companies (Paul Taylor’s, Martha Graham’s, and many more)—this is what Varone does.

He has been called “the Raymond Carver of the dance world” for the way he creates layers of emotion within a space of time, the way kinetic responses within a group are subtly inter-webbed and weighted. The process of making his much-loved solo Noctourne(1987) taught him to see “the human in the movement rather than the movement itself.” As Varone would later say, “I always used to think of dance-making as steps that are used to move us forward, and I’ve learned that it is very much about the circular action of narrative, even in abstract work.” This circularity, a curvaceous quality in the way Varone shapes phrases, makes for dances that are deeply whole.