Happy Anniversary

Sylvain Lafortune and Jeffrey Gribler (standing) in Lubovitch's Concerto Six Twenty-Two.Photo: Janet P. Levitt

Lar Lubovitch celebrated 30 years of having his own modern-dance company with a one-night stand at the City Center. As gala events go, this one was a model of efficiency and charm. A mini-retrospective of Lubovitch’s work, it offered two solid chunks of dancing – Act Two of Othello, created last year for American Ballet Theatre and performed here by that company’s dancers, and the ever-popular 1989 Fandango, an erotic duet in Lubovitch’s all-flesh, no-bones signature style, danced to the Ravel Bolero by members of the Lubovitch troupe. A well-timed potpourri followed. Here, cleverly manipulated video alternated with live dancing to present excerpts from the choreographer’s greatest hits in his several modes. These include not merely ballet and modern but also Broadway and ice-dancing.

The most ravishing performances came from emeritus members of the company as well as the present brood. Nancy Colahan, seen in a segment from Bach’s Air in G, has acquired a mature bulk since she retired from the Lubovitch team in 1990, but her dancing remains compelling – vigorous and lyrical. Rob Besserer (with Lubovitch from the mid-seventies to the mid-eighties and a big presence in my personal Modern-Dance Hall of Fame) proved to be a master of gesture surrounded by intense stillness in the “Ev’ry Time We Say Goodbye” duet from the 1994 So in Love. Sylvain Lafortune (tenure: 1985-1990) re-created the role he originated in the poignant duet for male lovers – a gentle, irrefutable argument for tolerance – from Concerto Six Twenty-Two. Among the company’s current members, Dirk Platzek and Scott Rink were unforgettable in solos from Waiting For the Sunrise (1991). In “Smoke Rings,” Platzek was a Raymond Chandler figure with an unexpected streak of vulnerability. Rink, as the cruelly abandoned boyfriend in “Tennessee Waltz,” made himself the image of hapless youthful desolation. If only Lubovitch could apply the acuteness of tone he achieves using vintage popular songs – treating the music lovingly, yet with a contemporary irony – to his work with grander music!

The archival footage of Lubovitch-on-ice ranged from work for the inimitable John Curry – who was a danseur noble on blades – to a don’t-say-no-till-you’ve-tried-it Sleeping Beauty. Lubovitch has been a natural for this odd genre that is neither sport nor art because skating’s low-friction glide and its sudden, supple shifts of direction offer him an extreme instance of the qualities he’s after in his stage choreography. As for Lubovitch-on-pointe, there’s much to be said for the occasion’s concert rendering (no scenery, no costumes) of just a single act of Othello, a disaster in its full-dress, full-length form at the Met. The ABT dancers appeared more human and accessible at the City Center, while the choreography assumed the more fluid look of Lubovitch’s modern-dance style. These shifts made the virtues of the piece evident, especially in the passages for the ensemble, which took on a relentless sweep and an aura of imminent tragedy. Midway through one group dance, the anonymous corps figures, clad in the simplest of black practice clothes, with the women’s hair left unbound, seemed to evolve from representing members of the populace to being emblems of fate.

This little miracle, typical of what dance does best, may explain why Lubovitch, whose work frequently seems uneven or overreaching, gets himself hired for such a variety of jobs. He has an instinct for poetry. He may lack the range of skills to bring it to fruition regularly, but he has the instinct, and it’s basic to any theatrical endeavor.

Happy Anniversary