Now celebrating his dance company’s 40th anniversary, Lar Lubovitch is well poised to reflect on his accomplishments. The 65-year-old, internationally acclaimed choreographer has seen the dance world change and change again, and his company’s success and longevity are a testament to his ability to stay engaged without compromising his artistic integrity. Ten years ago, Lubovitch reformed his company, dropping an intense program of tours to focus instead on a series of special projects in New York City. This year, in honor of four decades of work, the company has returned to the road, and brings a program of old and new works to UCSB’s Campbell Hall this Thursday, October 23rd. Among the pieces on the program is his signature work “Concerto 622,” choreographed at the height of the AIDS epidemic in 1986, but equally relevant today.
Though the tour marks the company’s first in over a decade, Santa Barbara has been benefiting from Lubovitch’s influence the whole time through the teaching and choreography of Nancy Colahan, a soloist with the company in the 1980s, and now a modern dance choreographer and lecturer in the UCSB department of theater and dance. I interviewed Lubovitch after first speaking with Colahan about her experiences dancing in his company. What follows are excerpts from my interview with Lubovitch, the master of modern dance choreography.
What made you decide at this juncture to go back to the old repertory and to present it in combination with new work?
In honor of the 40th anniversary I decided to revive one work that was roughly from each of the decades of those 40 years. Each of those works represents, one might say, a peak moment of each one of those four decades of creativity, and then there are these three new pieces to go along with them.
Can you talk about “Concerto 622,” and what made it emblematic for the 1980s?
“Concerto 622” was a significant work in its time because it was choreographed as a response to the AIDS epidemic, which was very much at its height. There had been no response from the dance world to the AIDS crisis until that point, and so I formulated this idea of a dance benefit called Dancing for Life. We put together a major program performed at Lincoln Center with many major companies, each contributing work in response to this moment in our time. The central duet in “Concerto 622” is for two men, a symbol that became emblematic of the time in which we were living. Its central theme is friendship, actually. Friendship was a very major theme because so many friends were helping friends through deep crisis and to death, really. But the work exists on its own terms, not necessarily from its original motivation, as a tribute to Mozart’s beautiful clarinet concerto.
You know that Nancy Colahan now teaches here at UCSB; we spoke recently, and she said she felt you were always able to attract some of the most superlative, beautiful dancers because of the ‘danceability’ of your work, or the physical satisfaction of dancing your choreography.
Well I know that that’s so, and that’s because the other thing that my work is about, even before it’s about music, is dancing. I think when dancers see it they know that; they know that it honors their gift, and that dancing is the heart and soul, the real bottom line of everything that I do. I use the body as an instrument. People sometimes ask me if I play an instrument, and I say, ‘Well yes, I play my body.’ It’s a way of singing the music with your body. And I think that dancers recognize that. They feel that physically, even as they sit in a seat watching a dance, they know kinesthetically that the bodies on stage are singing the music.
Now that you’ve taken the time to look back at the past four decades, what do you think has remained from the early years, and what has changed in your work?
Well, I had an interesting experience recently of seeing a film of myself dancing that I didn’t know existed. I went to the University of Iowa as an art major and I discovered dance there; I really didn’t know it existed before then. When I discovered dance it was a very sort of revelatory moment, and it was kind of one of those thunderclaps of recognition that that’s what I was meant to do. I did a bit of research and found out that I could go to the Juilliard School of Music to become a dancer, and go to New York, and that I had to choreograph a dance to do that. So I did choreograph a dance. What I had forgotten was that a friend of mine from the television and film school at that time did a videotape of me doing that dance. Then just some years ago, a dancer of mine was teaching at the University of Iowa and someone asked him if he knew there was a film of me there. He brought it back to New York, and it was this film of me doing the first solo I ever choreographed, before I ever became a dancer or a choreographer. What was moving about it for me and enlightening and uplifting was that it seemed to capture precisely what it is that my work is about today. That means to me that my source is still the same. I recognized certain intuitive values that are still a part of what I do.
That reminds me of something else Nancy said; she talked about how you had been very honest to what you were intending to do, even when – like in the postmodern era – it wasn’t necessarily the done thing to be emotional and lush and romantic.
I absolutely know that that’s so, and that was a conscious choice. I recognized what it was that I did; I recognized who I really was, what my voice was as a creator, and it was very much not the voice that was a part of the trend of times. It was sort of maverick, and in fact spoke in terms that were kind of looked down upon, even considered obsolete: romanticism and lyrical dance and technical modern dance: the kind of things that really do represent my values. I really couldn’t jump on board this other ship because it wasn’t who I really was, and so I had to go on doing precisely what I did, whether it was fashionable or not. I even made a point of doing it to an extreme, which I think was a statement that was startling to people. Nancy will well remember a piece I created on her called the “Brahms Symphony” which was an extremely romantic, very, very lush dance that I did at the very height of postmodern new wave, which was very antithetical to everything that was going on in dance and considered nouveau at the time. I did it quite on purpose to make it very clear that I was going to stick to my guns and I wasn’t going to cut my clothes to suit the fashion of the times. I think that what artists can do as a symbol in this world is to be true to themselves. Sometimes that is a very unpopular thing to do, but it nonetheless is the reason that artists exist in the world: to point out to people that idealism does exist, that one can pursue that path no matter how out of fashion it might be.
Anything else you’d like to say?
I would only add that Nancy Colahan was the perfect example of the quality of dancer that I’ve always endeavored to work with.
In what ways?
In her time as a dancer in New York, Nancy was one of the top dancers in her field, in technical modern dance.
Well she certainly gave me the impression that you always drew to you the best and most powerful dancers.
Yes, I always fought to, and I still do.
The Lar Lubovitch Dance Company performs at UCSB’s Campbell Hall on Thursday, October 23, at 8 p.m. For tickets or more information, call 893-3535 or visit artsandlectures.ucsb.edu. Members of the company will also teach a master class at S.B. Dance Arts on Wednesday, October 22, at 7:30 p.m. To reserve as spot, call 966-6950 or visit sbdancealliance.org.