Lar Lubovitch: Bringing His Vision To Light

By Emma Andres

The dancers held their arms in position like those of a T-Rex, their elbows attached to their sides.  Their hands dangling in front of their stomachs, bending at the wrists and swinging back and forth, they ran through the circling sequence. Drops of sweat trickled down their foreheads and backs,  coating their shirts with a visible layer of moisture.  Lar Lubovitch sat at the front of the studio, at the edge of his seat, his heels lifted off of the floor as his toes kept time with the music. He folded his hands together anxiously as he analyzed his dancers moving through the sequence, preparing for the Claire Trevor School of Arts’ annual production, Dance Visions, which these dancers performed Feb. 22 to 25, Thursday through Saturday of last week.

“You absolutely have to know you finish there,” he asserted, standing up to correct one of his dancers who had failed to finish the sequence in the right position.  The movement patterns in his piece “Marimba” require an advanced level of accuracy and precision.  Repetition is key, which is why Lubovitch ran through each section about 15 times an hour in total.  Yet by the final run, the perfectionist in him seemed only partially satisfied.

“There is a lot of cleaning to do with this,” he concluded. With a half-hearted glance, he walked back to his chair at the front of the studio. Luckily, the dancers have five more weeks to give him what he wants.

Lubovitch grew up in Chicago.  He attended the University of Iowa and then the Juilliard School for his dance training where he graduated in 1964.  In 1968, he created his own dance company known as the Lar Lubovitch Dance Company.  He has choreographed over 100 pieces for the company and has choreographed for companies such as American Ballet Theater and the National Ballet of Canada. Lubovitch has worked on choreographing for Broadway musicals such as “The Red Shoes,” a rendition of “The King and I,” and “Into The Woods” for which he received a Tony Award nomination.  He has also choreographed ice-skating sequences for skaters including gold-medalists Dorothy Hamill and Peggy Fleming.

In July 2016, Lubovitch became a distinguished professor in the UC Irvine dance department.  The dance department head, Lisa Naugle, first suggested a collaboration in 2013. Now in his second year at UCI, Lubovitch is using this time to stage pieces on dance majors and to learn more about teaching students in an academic setting.

When asked how he feels about teaching verses choreographing, he said that the two require very different mental processes.

“Creating is more like free-falling through the mind without a safety net, but teaching is much more grounded and much more connected in a linear way,” he explained.  “To teach, you have to organize your thoughts in a linear way, from A to B to C to D.  When you are free-falling through the imagination with a creative process, it’s often quite the opposite.  You are falling in totally disparate and disconnected places trying to find a way to make sense out of them.”

Lubovitch was extremely young when he first became interested in dance. In fact, he remembers the first time he ever created a movement sequence, which happened when he was just three or four years old. One bitterly cold winter night, a department store across from where he lived caught fire.  Firefighters came, flooding the building with their hoses until the flames were extinguished.  The next morning Lubovitch saw what he described as “frozen waterfalls.”  Due to the extreme cold, the water from the hoses had cascaded through the windows freezing before it could hit the ground.

“Inside of the waterfalls were all the objects that had been inside the store. Like little lipstick cases, forks, and knives…little toys were all choked up inside these waterfalls,” Lubovitch recounted.  “In one of the waterfalls, I saw this little teddy bear…I immediately made up a dance about the teddy bear in the frozen water.”

Lubovitch originally choreographed his  piece “Marimba” in 1976. It is a traditional trance dance — rhythmic dancing sequences that are used to reach a new state of consciousness.  This was one of the first dances created with minimalist music. The song by Steve Reich that accompanies “Marimba” is what Lubovitch called “a revolutionary, radical move in music,” and he “wanted to become a part of that radical notion by creating a dance to it.”

The piece includes movements that emphasize fluidity, grace and passion. The cast consists of 10 UC Irvine dancers, and Lubovitch rehearses with them Monday, Wednesday and Friday, for three hours each session. Alongside him at these rehearsals is his assistant and one of the dancers in his company Katarzyna Skarpetowska, or Kate.  Having Kate, who performed in the “Marimba” cast of 2008, there to assist him is important for the piece’s accuracy. Lubovitch expects a high level of maturity and discipline from his dancers. They are required to understand the complexity of the piece and have to remember the material at a professional level. One of his dancers, second-year dance major Jacob Boarnet believes that working with Lubovitch is unlike working with other faculty members in the department.

“It does have a very different environment than other rehearsals, simply because he treats it as though it is a professional company, so the dynamic is very responsible and motivated,” said Boarnet.

It is no doubt that Lubovitch is an accomplished choreographer and that his works appeal to many audiences.  But when asked if he choreographs for a specific audience, Lubovitch shook his head.

“I choreograph only for myself,” he said. “I choreograph in order to bring my vision to light, to find a way to make it real rather than just imaginary.  Of course, I do it for an audience because we’re working in a performing art…but in order to create it, I have to create it from and for myself and then hope that an audience also can identify with it.”