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Lar Lubovitch - More Resources

Lar Lubovitch (b. 1943): The Heir of Ballet and Modern Dance 

By Maureen E. Maryanski

An internationally acclaimed choreographer, Lar Lubovitch has for over four decades transcended the boundaries between ballet and modern dance with his lyrical, highly technical choreography. Emerging on the dance scene in the late 1960s when a polarization between ballet and modern dance existed, Lubovitch had a unique opportunity to bridge these worlds of concert dance, having been trained in and influenced by both disciplines. From this unusual position, he developed his artistic vision, always authentic to his own views on the value and significance of live dance, emphasizing the supremacy of dance as a “metaphor for humanity and emotion.”1

Born in Chicago on April 9, 1943, Lubovitch had an artistic background in painting that led him to Iowa State University. While there, a visit from the José Limón Company changed the trajectory of his artistic endeavors from the visual arts to dance. While attending New York City’s Juilliard School in the early 1960s, Lubovitch studied with dance icons Antony Tudor, Martha Graham, José Limón, and Anna Sokolow, as well as Louis Horst, Lucas Hoving, and Bertram Ross. He danced for key modern dance choreographers including Pearl Lang, Donald McKayle, John Butler, and Glen Tetley. Lubovitch’s bridging of the modern dance and ballet worlds was evident even then as he also danced with the Manhattan Festival Ballet and Harkness Ballet, before spending time choreographing in Europe during the mid 1960s.

Returning to New York in 1968, Lubovitch formed his dance company, currently in its 48th season.  From the beginning, members of the company reflected Lubovitch’s diverse training in ballet and modern dance, as did his choreography. His status as a “modern dance choreographer with a classical background” was viewed a “most unusual.”2 At a time when the polarization of ballet, modern, and postmodern dance was extreme and many were reconsidering the meaning of dance, Lubovitch chose to utilize the movement vocabularies of both techniques. As he explained it, “beautiful steps were handed down to me. I’ve learned those steps…I use it all. I make no pretensions to being an inventor or innovator. I am not a trailblazer, because I am the heir to a great fortune of movement, and I’m happy to have inherited this fortune.”3 Always cognizant of the legacy of dance, Lubovitch chose to honor all its aspects by continuing and intermingling the traditions of ballet and modern dance in his choreography and evolving according to his own aesthetic tastes.

From this place of uniting and honoring ballet and modern dance, Lubovitch created popular and satisfying dances, appealing to audiences of both dance traditions. Shortly after the formation of his company, Clive Barnes described his choreography in the New York Times as having first a “sensuously serene quality” and, second, an “element of manic energy.”4 Lubovitch’s early works include Whirligogs (1969), Some of the reactions of some of the people some of the time on hearing reports on the coming of the Messiah (1971), The Time Before the Time After (After the Time Before) (1972), Joy of Man’s Desiring (1972), and Scherzo for Massah Jack (1973). This first phase of his choreography has been characterized by Marcia B. Siegel as “rhythmic,” featuring “huge simultaneous body changes,” and lacking “lightness or upward swing…no sense of flying out into space.”5

By the late 1970s, the core relationship between music and movement in Lubovitch’s dances became apparent, most commonly with the movement directly responding to the music. The stand out pieces of this era are Marimba (1976) and Cavalcade (1980) set to scores by Steve Reich and North Star (1978) set to a score by Philip Glass. Flowing and circular qualities coupled with a telephone-style transmission of movement between dancers onstage filled these dances with energy and vibrancy. Branching out musically in the next several years, he moved from minimalist scores to classical composers including Brahms, J.S. Bach, Mozart, Ravel, Johann Strauss, Charles Ives, and George Gershwin, creating some of his most recognizable dances including Brahms Symphony (1985), Concerto Six-Twenty-Two (1985), Of My Soul (1987), Rhapsody in Blue (1988), and Fandango (1990). One of Lubovitch’s most well-known works, Concerto Six-Twenty-Two was created in response to the AIDS crisis. The second movement of the piece features a tender male duet, celebrating friendship between men, rooted in dignity.

The relationship between music and movement in Lubovitch’s work has remained consistent throughout his career, becoming a defining characteristic of his dances. He addressed his approach in 2010 at the premiere of his Coltrane’s Favorite Things. He spoke of his “predilections” in this respect, saying “I do this very old-fashioned thing…I design the music visually.”6 Not merely seeking to copy the music exactly into movement, Lubovitch strives to “write the visual line of the score that capitulates to everything but doesn’t copy it.”7 From the structure and the interactions between the shapes he creates and the music that he chooses, the motive and message of the dance emerges. As Lubovitch stated in 1999, he seeks with each new dance to take a subject matter and explore it, in his own manner and not necessarily with the same process. He is open to whatever inspires him from life, with the constant of his process being the relationship between music and movement.

In discussing his more recent dances, Lubovitch continues to emphasize dance as a way “to describe music with movement” and as a “form of movement poetry.”8 However, he has also recognized the storytelling nature of his dances and the influence of folk stories and legends in the creation of his work. His interest in creating dances related directly to humanity and human behavior as opposed to more abstract dances has influenced his more recent works, including The Wedding (2001), a reworked version of Les Noces, Coltrane’s Favorite Things (2010), which comments on the music and visual arts of the 1950s, and The Black Rose (2015), the story of an enchanted young woman. He has also taken inspiration from subjects such as the 1905 Picasso painting “Family of Saltimbanques” for Transparent Things (2012), using the set scene and characters from the artwork as the starting point for a narrative.

Beyond his work with his company creating scores of dances, a vital aspect of Lubovitch’s career is his success as a Broadway choreographer, his forays into film and ice dancing, and collaborations with American Ballet Theatre (ABT) and San Francisco Ballet. He choreographed Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine’s Into the Woods (1987), earning a Tony Award nomination for his work. He also contributed new dances to the 1996 revival of Rogers and Hammerstein’s The King and I. The 1993 adaptation of The Red Shoes, although a critical failure on Broadway, earned praise for his choreography, leading to ABT purchasing the rights and Lubovitch winning an Astaire Award. In 1997, he continued to collaborate with ABT, creating a full-length version of Othello set to a commissioned score by Elliot Goldenthal. His choreography can also be seen in diverse projects from Robert Altman’s film The Company (2003) to the ice dancing of John Curry, Peggy Fleming, and the Ice Theatre of New York.

Over his lengthy and lauded career, Lubovitch has been the recipient of several awards and honors including: the Prix Benois de la Danse award for best choreography for 2011’s Crisis Variations, the USArtists Ford Fellowship for outstanding choreography, and the Dance/USA Honors for extraordinary leadership in the dance field by reason of artistic excellence and/or force of vision. In the summer of 2016, Lubovitch will be honored by the American Dance Festival with the Samuel H. Scripps/American Dance Festival Award for lifetime achievement and will premiere a new dance based on the Pushkin poem "The Bronze Horseman" at the Mikhailovsky Theatre in Saint Petersburg, Russia. Lubovitch continues each year to actively create and contribute to the dance world, striving always to make his best dance: rooted in the traditions of both ballet and modern dance, grounded in the chosen music, and seeking to connect to the audience through story and emotion.


NOTES

1. William Harris, “For Lubovitch, Dance is a Verbal Art,” New York Times (Feb. 25, 1990), II, 1.

2. Clive Barnes, “Dance: Lar Lubovitch Fills an Evening,” New York Times (Dec. 15, 1969), 66.

3. John Gruen, People Who Dance: 22 Dancers Tell Their Own Stories (Pennington, NJ: Princeton Book Co., 1988), 85.

4. Barnes, 66.

5. Stacey Prickett, “Lar Lubovitch,” Fifty Contemporary Choreographers (London and New York: Routledge, 1999),146.

6. Gia Kourlas, “Choreography Inspired by Coltrane,” New York Times (Feb 21, 2010), AR15.

7. Kourlas, AR15.

8. Tresca Weinstein, “Storied Dances: Lubovitch’s Latest Choreography on Stage Wednesday at SPAC,” The Times Union (June 12, 2015).


Maureen E. Maryanski is a Reference Librarian for Printed Collections at the New-York Historical Society. Previously, she worked for the Dance Heritage Coalition as an Archival Fellow in 2012 and 2013 at the Dance Notation Bureau and the Lar Lubovitch Dance Company. A former modern dancer and choreographer, Maryanski trained as a rare books and manuscripts librarian at Indiana University’s Lilly Library and, in addition to dance history, specializes in women’s history and teaching with special collections.

 

Selected Resources for Further Research

Books and Articles

Anderson, Jack. “Dance: Lar Lubovitch.” New York Times May 5, 1978.

Barnes, Clive. “Dance: Lar Lubovitch Fills an Evening.” New York Times Dec 15, 1969.

Eichenbaum, Rose. Masters of Movement: Portraits of America’s Great Choreographers. Washington: Smithsonian Books, 2004.

Gruen, John. People Who Dance: 22 Dancers Tell Their Own Stories. Pennington, NJ: Princeton Book Co., 1988.

Harris, William. “For Lubovitch, Dance is a Verbal Art.” New York Times, Feb. 25, 1990.

Kisselgoff, Anna. “Dance: Lar Lubovitch at City Center.” New York Times May 10, 1985.

Kisselgoff, Anna. “Lar Lubovitch and Mozart, Mozart, Mozart.” New York Times Jul 23, 1991. 

Kourlas, Gia. “Choreography Inspired by Coltrane.” New York Times Feb 21, 2010.

Macaulay, Alastair. “Waves of Movement, Ever Flowing.” New York Times Nov 20, 2010.

Prickett, Stacey. “Lar Lubovitch.” Martha Bremser and Lorna Sanders, ed. Fifty Contemporary Choreographers. London and New York: Routledge, 1999.

Weinstein, Tresca. “Storied Dances: Lubovitch’s Latest Choreography on Stage Wednesday at SPAC. The Times Union. June 12, 2015.

Archives

Interviews, sound recordings, and video recordings are available at the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts Dance Division.