Love’s Stories, Little Rhapsodies, and Dvorák’s Serenade

Lar Lubovitch Dance Company at the Skirball Center for the Performing Arts on Wednesday, April 18.

When I went away to college, I took great pleasure in going to the movies on a whim. It would be 9 o’clock on a Tuesday night, and I wouldn’t feel like studying or socializing, so I’d hop in my car, speed to the nearest metroplex, pick something off the marquee, and settle happily into a chair in the back of the theater. I felt like a triumphant fugitive, free and unbound.

I still love doing that, actually, and one of my favorite things about New York is that my options for spur-of-the-moment escapism have expanded exponentially. On Wednesday, for example, I took the subway downtown instead of up- after work and bought a ticket to see the Lar Lubovitch Dance Company that night. I’d read about the performance earlier in the week, but I didn’t decide to go until that afternoon. After several excruciatingly bad news days (working in front of a computer from 9 to 5 has turned me into a full-blown news junkie), I felt I needed the diversion.

And I do love Lubovitch’s work, which turns up fairly frequently in American Ballet Theatre repertory programs. His choreography for pairs is particularly breathtaking. The couple seems to move as a single organism, always touching, moving seamlessly though intricate steps and lifts. The dancers never pause to shift the man’s hands to the woman’s waist or adjust their stance or plant their feet. Their movements are completely fluid and strikingly intimate, a joy to watch.

The first piece on the program, Love’s Stories, met my expectations perfectly. Set to jazzy arrangements of familiar vocal standards, the work opened and closed with an ensemble of seven, and in between featured three duets of varying moods. Those duets were gorgeous: smooth and sensual and emotionally charged. But Lubovitch has a broader palette than my limited conception of his work (all pas de deux all the time), and the rest of the program explored that.

The second work, Little Rhapsodies, featured a trio of male dancers and a pianist. (I was so happy the musician was present. I understand that small dance companies often can’t afford live music, but as one who attends the shows as much for the music as the dance, I’m always thrilled to see both musicians and dancers onstage.) The most interesting thing about Rhapsodies was the contrast between the three dancers. Each was quite talented, but Rasta Thomas stood out. Doing the same steps, the same leaps, he looked noticeably freer and more energetic than the other two. By comparison they seemed slightly stiff and reserved. But Thomas’ dancing was so lithe and guileless, seemingly spontaneous and second nature, that I could imagine him moving that way in everyday life, bounding gracefully to the subway, dancing blithely through the corner bodega. He drew my eyes away from the others every time he stepped onstage.

The evening’s final work, Dvorák’s Serenade, was classic, coolly serene, even aloof—again not what I associate with Lubovitch but beautiful all the same. The dancing between the featured pair wasn’t sensual so much as regal, like haughty demigods among the mere mortals of the ensemble. To me, though, the ensemble dancing was the best part of the work. The ten dancers barely touched each other, but they moved slowly in perfect unison, the hypnotic effect of their movements heightened by the golden lighting of the stage.

Dvorák’s Serenade gave me the opportunity to really appreciate the ensemble, too. Classical ballerinas tend to look the same—impossibly slender, long-limbed, and willowy, their long hair pulled sharply back and up—but in contemporary dance companies, you see more variety: smaller women, women with short hair, curvier women, more muscular women. They’re still incredibly athletic and trim, but they look more human, too, and that’s endearing.

What’s more, if the dancers seemed more diverse and human by the end of the program, so, too, did Lubovitch himself. The performances expanded my notion of his choreography and his aesthetic, which was exciting. In about a month, I’m going to see the American Ballet Theatre perform his full-length ballet Othello. I was already looking forward to the dancing between Othello and Desdemona; now I’m interested to see how Lubovitch interpreted Iago and the soldiers and extras, too.