''The Bottomland,'' Doug Varone's highly imaginative new multimedia piece celebrates a national park in Kentucky with an oblique tale, the stuff of which country music is made.
Fragment by fragment, Mr. Varone creates a sense of place at the Ohio Theater, where the two-part work commissioned by Wolf Trap Park's Face of America series about national parks will be performed through Dec. 22.
The first half includes a film of the company, Doug Varone and Dancers, inside the caverns of Mammoth Cave National Park in Kentucky.
Love gone wrong seems hardly the theme in this section, as the filmed dancers in their plain Appalachian clothes interact with their live selves.
Nonetheless a tape by the country singer Patty Loveless hints at the domestic drama to come. The seeds of Part 2 are imbedded in the first half, in the way that the dancers are defined through spatial composition. An image of a love triangle flashes by with subliminal fleetness.
By the end of the performance on Thursday night at the theater (66 Wooster Street, between Broome and Spring Streets, in SoHo) a story had been told. An abusive husband gangs up with fellow rednecks on an Asian couple, the outsiders in a rural community. Most of his time is spent tormenting his wife as he makes advances to the town tease, who can't make up her mind about him. A fire-and-brimstone evangelist tries his best to set things right.
The tale may not be new, but Mr. Varone fills the telling with surprises, not the least of which is his use of movement in a strong theatrical setting.
Each component works on its own level. The dancing, although not continuous, can erupt with violence and intricacy, then subside into occasional calm. Gaétan Leboeuf's original score for Part 2 has its own drama. The video by Mr. Varone can teach city slickers something about the huge expanse that nature can cut through rock with underground rivers. When the dancers move a set of dollhouses by Allen Moyer, the gabled props suggest both a town and the way a community can close in upon itself.
Mr. Varone, 46, has emerged in the last decade as one of the few modern-dance choreographers of his generation still able to convey depth of emotion through movement. There is a strong pure-dance aspect to his highly physical and fluid choreography. But even the most plotless of his works have an emotional undercurrent. He has done a remarkable job here of coaching his dancers, down to every dour, pained or joyful facial expression and frozen posture.
Recently he has become increasingly interested in storytelling indirectly conveyed through dance. ''The Bottomland'' nonetheless has some antecedents in ''Momentary Order,'' a wonderful work that he created about a Maine community of French-Canadian descent that was seen at the Ohio Theater in 1992. That piece was more stirring than ''The Bottomland,'' possibly because Mr. Varone and his company were immersed in that community in Lewistone, Me., during a seven-month residency. In that piece, as in the new one, Larry Hahn offered a brilliantly complex portrayal with his weather-beaten persona as a heavyset protagonist whose feelings cannot be contained. In both productions the community is dressed in plain garb (this time by Liz Prince).
The first part of ''The Bottomland'' was seen without Part 2 in August at Wolf Trap Park in Vienna, Va., near Washington. The Wolf Trap Foundation for the Performing Arts commissioned Mr. Varone for the third annual event intended to celebrate a national park (Yosemite in 2000, Virgin Islands National Park in 2001).
''Songs That Tell a Story,'' the first half, has all the earmarks of a work done on assignment, and there is something familiar about dancers dancing the same thing both live and on film or picking up motifs transferred from one medium to another. At the same time the huge size of the caves and Mr. Varone's play with perspective on film create a wondrous space.
Essentially the dancers look like dancers in Part 1, although there are vignettes that explain the action in Part 2. Mr. Hahn and Natalie Desch, both outstanding in the subtlety of their acting, do some country dancing in the cave on film. Only later is there a hint that Nina Watt will play a major role as the brutalized wife who befriends the Asian couple who teach her to use chopsticks, Adriane Fang and Eddie Taketa.
None of this is as simple as it sounds, and there is a witty duet between Faye Driscoll and John Beasant III set to the song ''Raging Fire.'' Performed on chairs, the duet is filled with grimaces with the dancers both on film and live as they express their desires. In ''As Told at Night, When the Air Is a Different Color,'' the second half, Mr. Beasant is at first indifferent to Catherine Miller as he mourns Ms. Driscoll, who has left him.
There is no humor, however, in the performance of the suffering Ms. Watt, long a great dancer in the José Limón company, or even in the exaggerated solos of Daniel Charon as the preacher. By the end of the work, lighted by Jane Cox, Mr. Varone has brilliantly brought his dramatic tension to a peak. The cumulative impact is unmistakable.
Photo: Members of Doug Varone's company in ''The Bottomland,'' which celebrates Mammoth Cave National Park. (Michelle V. Agins/The New York Times)

Local dance review by Ann Murphy

Together, Garrett and Moulton make a team that, in its finest moments, crafts deep, affecting dance that pushes the boundaries of abstraction, edges powerfully toward archetype, then returns to the more prosaic ground of fractured, post-modern story. Their work echoes the dance of other senior Bay Area choreographers like Alonzo King, Margaret Jenkins and Brenda Way and seeks to find the thread in existence that binds us and gives us hope through inevitable trials and loss.
Garret + Moulton's latest project, "Luminous Edge," which opened Thursday night at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts in San Francisco and continues through Sunday, ambitiously examines the relationship of light and dark as symbols of the human condition. With an onstage orchestra of eight noted experimental musicians, joined by contralto Karen Clark, the dance begins in dim light and takes us through various landscapes of light and dark. We watch as the chorus edges center from both sides of the stage to form a corridor that is illuminated as each of the main couples sweeps down its center in twisting, lyrical phrases.
We see the same couples in sharp spotlights moving and yet entrapped by the 18 black-clad chorus members, whose entwining arms and hands seem like tentacles that embody both external and internal forces, from tree limbs to doubts and fears. The chorus, in other word, gives stunning shape to the shadows, and the 18 young performers were almost flawless in their deft timing and articulation.

Such layered communication defines "Luminous Edge." Wherever the stage is awash in light, the darkness at its edge is as strong and meaningful. Whenever the dance sweeps, its line is also broken and fragmentary. And wherever it depicts loss and death, as in one of the poignant vignettes where dancers are embraced, then lowered gently to the ground like victims of plague or war, it does so with abiding tenderness and care. Even death becomes exquisite.

The strongest moments are those many that combine the chorus and the six accomplished dancers (Nol Simonse, Tegam Schwab, Michael Galloway, Carolina Czechowska, Vivian Aragon and Dudley Flores). Whether chorus members are arrayed stadium style at an angle to the action, where they perform simple, mesmerizing movements made complex by Moulton's interleaving patterns, or gather in groupings around the central couples, they provide counterweight and give volume to Garrett's dashing, elongated limbs. And Moulton's ingenious actions, which combine the heft of early German modern dance with the whimsy of Busby Berkeley's drill routines, become systems and patterns that reflect the dancers' condition.

Dancer Nol Simonse captured the duality of heft and delicacy with whole-body sensitivity, his breath driving the flow of a hand and his weighted legs heightening the poignancy of his gestures. Pixie Vivian Aragon gave Garrett's actions a whipping ferocity, while long-limbed Carolina Czechowska accentuated the movement's magnitude and complexity. Tegam Schwab brought bound power to the work, moving with pent-up force. Michael Galloway gave it mystery and Dudley Flores brought elegance to a haunting and beautiful dance.