By Jon Teeuwissen, MOT Artistic Advisor for Dance
When it comes to choreographers who have crossed genres with dance, perhaps none is more versatile than Lar Lubovitch. With a prolific career that spans over 60 years, Lubovitch has choreographed for a diverse range of art forms, working with top artists such as dancer Mikhail Baryshnikov, film director Robert Altman, Broadway stage director Stephen Sondheim, actor Neve Campbell and Olympic ice skating gold medalist John Curry.
It was in college, as an art student and gymnast, that Lubovitch was approached by a dance professor to “come lift some women" on stage. She then invited him to join her for performance of the José Limón Dance Company, and dance became his focus. A graduate from New York’s Juilliard School, Lubovitch trained with Martha Graham, José Limón, Anna Sokolow and Antony Tudor.
In 1968, Lubovitch founded the Lar Lubovitch Dance Company. I first saw his company in the late 70s and immediately became a fan. The New York-based company, for which he has choreographed over 100 dances, has performed in all 50 states as well as in more than 30 countries. In addition to his own modern dance company, Lubovitch has works in the repertories of major companies throughout the world such as the New York City Ballet, American Ballet Theatre, Paris Opera Ballet, Royal Danish Ballet, Stuttgart Ballet, National Ballet of Canada, Joffrey Ballet, San Francisco Ballet, Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, Baryshnikov's White Oak Dance Project and Netherlands Dance Theater.
Lubovitch’s choreography in known for its lush musicality and unabashed emotionalism. In terms of his creative process, Lubovitch says he responds visually to music, that his inner eye gets excited: “I visualize the shape that the music wants to take in a space and a time.”
Lubovitch made his foray into Broadway with the musical staging for Sondheim’s Into the Woods. He would go on to choreograph the dance sequences for the Broadway show The Red Shoes, create the musical staging for the Broadway revival of The King and I and create the musical staging for Walt Disney's stage version of The Hunchback of Notre Dame in Berlin.
Lubovitch's work with figure skaters made notable contributions to the advancement of choreography in the field of ice dancing, adding to the ice dancing vocabulary a movement called the “Lubo,” named in his honor. In addition to Curry, he has created dances for Olympic gold medalists Peggy Fleming and Dorothy Hamill and has choreographed a full-length ice dancing version of The Sleeping Beauty, starring Olympic medalists Robin Cousins and Rosalynn Sumners, which was broadcast throughout Great Britain and America.
One of my favorite examples of his work with ice dancing is a TV project he created and choreographed for Isabelle and Paul Duchesnay, who won the silver medal for France at the 1992 Olympics. The show, based on “The Planets” by Gustav Holst, was broadcast by the A&E television network in June 1995 and was nominated for an International Emmy Award, a Cable ACE Award and a Grammy Award. He has also created ice dances for Paul Wylie, a duet for Renée Roca and Gorsha Sur, and an ensemble piece for the Ice Theatre of New York.
The following video is an excerpt from “The Planets” that features the duet from “Venus”:
I first met Lubovitch when I brought his company to New Orleans in the early 90s. We presented a mixed-repertoire program, and the standout dance for me was the piece “Waiting for the Sunrise,” choreographed to the music of Les Paul and Mary Ford. Although Lubovitch’s work is renowned for its musicality, rhapsodic style and sophisticated formal structures, his dance also showcased his sense of humor. A solo dance, “Smoke,” made such a poignant impression that I still to this day remember and reflect upon the experience. It was haunting perfection.
In 1997, I attended the world premiere of Lubovitch’s full-length ballet Othello at New York’s Metropolitan Opera House. Co-commissioned by American Ballet Theatre and San Francisco Ballet, to a score by Elliot Goldenthal, the ballet entered the repertoire of both companies. Othello was broadcast nationwide on PBS's "Great Performances" and nominated for an Emmy Award. Years later it would also enter the repertoire of the Joffrey Ballet.
In 1998, I was hired by the Lar Lubovitch Dance Company to project manage their 30th Anniversary Gala Performance at New York’s City Center. It was a fascinating experience as the performance showcased highlights of Lubovitch’s career and included live performances by his own dancers, a selection from Othello danced by American Ballet Theatre, film clips of his ice dancing work and a film of his closing ballet from the Broadway show The Red Shoes.
One featured dance on the gala program was a stunning pas de deux, “Fandango,” performed to the music of Ravel’s “Bolero.” Created in 1990 for live performance on stage, it was also filmed for television and showcased in a “Dance in America” special which aired on PBS. Both danced and directed beautifully, the camera work accentuates the intricate partnering and lyrical movement that is signature Lubovitch choreography.
Possibly the most sensual pas de deux I have ever experienced, following is a video of Fandango:
Several years later, I worked with Lubovitch again. During my tenure as executive director at the Joffrey Ballet, Robert Altman directed a movie called The Company. Loosely based on the Joffrey, the 2003 film, starring Neve Campbell, Malcolm McDowell and James Franco, was centered on the life of a struggling ballet dancer. The repertoire performed in the film included a solo, "My Funny Valentine,” choreographed by Lubovitch, and performed by Campbell (who trained as a ballet dancer in Canada before becoming an actor). Lubovitch not only coached Campbell and rehearsed his ballet for the film, but also played himself as a choreographer in the film, adding feature film actor to his credits.
For his work on the film, Lubovitch was nominated for an American Choreography Award. In recent years he has received the following accolades for his significant contributions to dance:
- 2012: Pris Benois de la Danse award for outstanding choreography at the Bolshoi Theatre in Moscow for “Cris Variations”
- 2013: Lifetime achievement award from the American Dance Guild
- 2014: Honorary doctorate from the Juilliard School in New York
- 2016: Scripps/American Dance Festival Award
- 2016: Dance Magazine Award
- 2016: Named one of America’s “Irreplaceable Dance Treasures” by the Dance Heritage Coalition
- 2016: Appointed a Distinguished Professor of Dance at University of California Irvine