Saturday, October 20, 2012

The rhapsodies of Lar Lubovitch

Lubovitch does Morris doing Brahms.

It's hard not to be dazzled by Lar Lubovitch and his dancers - who hold the stage for one more night (tonight!) at the Schubert, thanks to Celebrity Series.  This 69-year-old choreographer has been a mainstay of contemporary dance for decades, but we haven't seen his New York-based company much in Boston (they're more often sighted out at Jacob's Pillow), so this weekend counts as an unusual chance for the locals to see the best of Lubovitch's recent work, along with one of the early pieces that put him on the map.  (It also offers a showcase for some of the most stylish dancers in the world, just btw.)

Lubovitch, of course, represents a kind of "hinge" in the history of gay dance in America: born in the closeted era of Jerome Robbins, he survived the scourge of AIDS - which decimated the ranks of our dance-makers (Alvin Ailey, Arnie Zane and Ruldoph Nureyev were just a few of its victims) - to become one of the highest profile fundraisers in the battle against that dreaded disease. Finally, he lived to see the success of a new generation of "out" gay choreographers (Mark Morris, Bill T. Jones) for whom their sexual identity was simply a given.

That history only served as subtext, however, to the program on view at Celebrity Series - but when Lubovitch invoked his gay identity (in Little Rhapsodies, from 2007), his choreography seemed to hit a sublime peak.  Elsewhere you could sometimes feel the influence of other talents on his sensibility (North Star was clearly a product of the late 70's, while Mark Morris seemed to shadow The Legend of Ten from 2010 - excerpt above).  But then Lubovitch's sensibility I feel isn't really seminal - it's more of a sophisticated stance, a sleek, lyrical, hybrid response to the currents that are moving around him.

This has gained him a reputation in some quarters for being seductive but a bit superficial.  Well, I'll take the seduction, thanks very much - only his attempt to limn Brahms ( again, The Legend of Ten) struck me as a bit specious and overblown (not to mention over-amplified). Still even it was often lovely, and there was truly broken feeling in its duets between Elisa Clark and Clifton Brown; this painful emotional edge just never cut through the larger architecture - which was a bit odd, as tracing the moving line between the individual and the group is one of Lubovitch's special talents.

Elsewhere it was amusing to see the choreographer's trademarked sense of grace buoy even the plinking repetitions of Philip Glass (in the cute, but mercifully brief, North Star of 1978).  It was perhaps more fascinating, however, to see that elegant flow collapse entirely in Crisis Variations (from just last year); here, to a stuttering deconstruction of Liszt, the superb Lubovitch dancers came utterly unstrung. Twitching and struggling, and endlessly falling into each other's arms (special kudos to fearless leading lady Katarzyna Skarpetowska), the dancers' struggles became an extended meditation on disability - juxtaposed starkly against Lubovitch's own innate sense of balance - that seemed to oscillate between the tragic and the ironic.

The greatest of the evening's dances, however, was Little Rhapsodies, from 2007 - a suite of variations for three men set to Murray Perahia's great recording of Schumann's Symphonic Variations.  The piece was clearly a survivor's valentine to urbane gay experience - which is only rarely depicted anywhere sans victimology or political pretense.  Dressed in pastel business casual - one dancer more casual than the rest - Lubovitch's trio of studs (the amazing Attila Joey Csiki, Reed Luplau, and Brian McGinnis, who shone in every piece he performed) cantered through a set of gambols that were clearly "dances," in quotes, yet also touched (lightly, but honestly) on any number of masculine topics: challenge, competition, camaraderie - and romantic loneliness, too.  The restless grace of this roundelay, which proved subtly structured in its flow, cut eloquently against the grandeur of the Schumann (which of course is a vast elaboration of a theme which came to Schumann through one of his own sexual entanglements).  The effect was somehow Mozartean, in that strange way in which what at first seems superficial can gradually tap into some deep sense of rapture.  If you want to see for yourself, there is a video of excerpts from the dance up on Vimeo (alas, rights restrictions meant I couldn't post it here).  Or, you could always see for yourself tonight at the Schubert!

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