Lar Lubovitch: Why I Want To Boldly Go Where No One Has Gone Before
Lar Lubovitch at the 2016 Dance Magazine Awards. Photo by Christopher Duggan.
Lar Lubovitch gave such a moving, thought-provoking speech at the Dance Magazine Awards this December that we felt compelled to share it with readers who weren't there. He gave us permission to present the entire text here.
At the age of 3 or 4 years old, I danced for the first time. It was a spontaneous a reaction that arose in me involuntarily in response to a fire.
My early life was spent in an area of Chicago known as Maxwell Street. It was Chicago's equivalent of New York's Lower East Side.
We lived in a second-floor apartment whose windows looked directly across the street into the second-floor windows of a Woolworth's five and ten cent store, sometimes referred to as the dime store.
One freezing winter night the dime store erupted in flames. Fire engines wailed through the night and inundated the conflagration with water.
In the morning when I awoke and looked across the street, giant cascades of water, gushing through the second story windows, had frozen solid into great arching waterfalls. And trapped within the gleaming cascades were tiny toys, tubes of lipstick, various little kitchen gadgets and pieces of broken dolls…but especially, one teddy bear, staring directly at me from within his ice palace suspended forever in crisis.
Something overwhelming happened in my body...an excitement too powerful to contain, that set me in motion.
I became the teddy bear—first singed by the fire, then lifted by the water, and then trapped within his frozen eternity.
I made up a dance for the first time. I don't know why I expressed my excitement at seeing this fantastical vision by dancing. I just did.
It was from a place before thinking.
Martha Graham put something like that into words:
“There is a vitality, a life force, a quickening that is translated through you into action and because there is only one of you in all of time, this expression is unique."
Lubovitch's The Wanderers at the Dance Magazine Awards. Photo by Christopher Duggan
I am not really sure why we dance, but it appears to be part of human nature that our bodies take over when something inexpressible needs to be said.
Primitive man, when faced with the mystery of what made water fall from the sky, that made crops grow so that they could eat, envisioned a power above them to which they could appeal for rain. They raised their arms to plead, they swayed and jumped, they fell to their knees in supplication.
And dance and God were given form at the same time.
Over the centuries humankind danced for many reasons: as a form of worship, as celebration, as a way of mourning, an expression of tribal identity, a social convention, as flirtation and seduction.
Ancient Egyptians recorded dances in hieroglyphics as a record of their history and beliefs.
Greek warriors danced in unison as a way to unite as one before going into battle.
Salome danced in exchange for the head of John the Baptist.
In the 13th century in Italy, the Tarantella was forbidden by the church, and its dancers were accused of demonic possession.
At about the same time, a disease called “Tanzmania" swept through Germany.
In the 1890's“Little Egypt" shocked the western world with her x-rated belly dancing.
A couple of decades later, a spy named Mata Hari danced to sabotage the enemy.
But long before that, Louis XIV danced to let all of France know that he was king of the sun. And his courtiers were required to learn to dance in order to secure his favor.
And right about then—give or take a hundred years or so—dance crossed a line and became something it had not been before. It became an art.
The arts of music, painting, sculpture and architecture had already existed for thousands of years. But once dance found its calling, it made up for lost time and grew very quickly from a manner of social behavior to the highly-evolved mode of expression we are celebrating tonight.
Of course, it didn't happen all at once. Dance became an art form the way a dance becomes a dance: By fluidly connecting a series of events, each event a thing in itself, but also the source from which the next event is born, each step along the way the summation of all that preceded it and simultaneously the mother of the step that follows. Always flowing forward but always referential to its past. Just as all of we who dance and make dances today are the sum of all that came before us.
My contemporaries and I were privileged to be the first generation of heirs to the legacies of innovators such as Balanchine, Graham, Tudor, Limón and Cunningham.
We are likely to think that those creative giants arose from nowhere, sudden genius, a departure from all that came before. But even geniuses such as those were the sum of all things that preceded them, until they took that unexpected leap of the imagination that opened a pathway to a future that had been unimagined by others.
Lubovitch's The Wanderers at the Dance Magazine Awards. Photo by Christopher Duggan.
All of us who dance and make dances are irresistibly drawn to that challenge—the obligation really—to engage in the act of discovery, to strive to find one's truthful voice, to be willing to risk, to take the million incremental steps that eventually and inevitably lead to a breakthrough.
The history of all art absolutely affirms that no matter how far we think we have come there is always another way, a new way, a better way, a further thought, an original vision, a startlingly different leap of the imagination taken by the one—that was unanticipated by the many—that elevates and changes the depth and breadth of creative possibilities.
During the 50 years that I have been creating dances, I have witnessed a number of great dance makers along the way that have added to and altered the look and reach of dance in new and surprising ways since the bedrock was laid by the earlier 20th-century visionaries that inspired their journeys.
When one embarks upon or is irrevocably driven to a life as an artist, the imperative to create something new and original is inherent. It is coded in the DNA of art. A natural creator does not need to be told, it is simply understood that is the very definition of what an artist does.
It takes a lot of courage to voluntarily dive into the unknown with only one's intuition as a guide, not to mention "chutzpah."
One may hope and pray for the elusive muse to arrive and when she does it feels miraculous, as though the dance is being revealed rather than invented.
But when she doesn't—which is more often than not—then the energy of fear must be put to use...and making a bargain with Satan is not too low to stoop.
Whether it is the cerebral heights of Balanchine revealing what music looks like, or Martha Graham's passionate essays on the human heart, or a universe of exquisite accidents as proposed by Merce Cunningham, or all the generations of dance makers that followed, the common thread that binds all of those souls together is that through the drama of line, shape, time and motion, all have attempted to say what is, to them, most truthful—and therefore most beautiful.
It may be that every dance I have ever made is an attempt to recapture the dance of the teddy bear— the moment of passion, the rapture, the freedom, the exhilaration that only dance could embody for me.
But with whatever I was given—some might call it a gift—I have done the best that I can. I will leave it to others to grade my score card when the tally is given. But whatever the measure of my contribution, I can say with great certainty that I have been true to myself whatever the prevailing fashion, and that I have loved and respected dancers and they have loved and inspired me in return.
Lar Lubovitch. Photo by Christopher Duggan.
At the age of 73 my aching damaged body is begging me to stop, but my mind has not yet been willing to cooperate with that plea.
“Maybe the next one will be the one...the one where I finally get it right." That's the thought that has goaded and driven me through all these terrible, fantastic years.
But whether in the best or worst of times I would be remiss, we would be remiss, if we did not acknowledge that we have been privileged to have been allowed a life in dance.
You may be surprised to know that I have been a life-long Trekkie.
I have seen every TV episode and Star Trek movie ever made of the voyages of the Starship Enterprise.
What captures my imagination and why I gleefully follow every voyage is the mission stated by Captain Kirk at the beginning of every episode: "To explore strange new worlds, to boldly go where no one has gone before."
For obvious reasons, every time I hear that I am hooked.
Whether or not I have succeeded in going where no one has gone before is a matter of conjecture. But that I have been engaged in that act of magical thinking and remained committed to the voyage for 50 years is the spirit in which I gratefully receive the acknowledgment being afforded me tonight by my colleagues at Dance Magazine.
I am humbled to be added to the list of superb artists who have received this esteemed award, and offer my gratitude for the affirmation.
"Is everyone okay?" was my most used sentence during my time with American Ballet Theatre. There I was, leading world-class ABT dancers through my own choreographic process. I knew that it was unlike anything they'd ever experienced, but I think half of the time I was asking that question, it was really directed to myself.ABT Incubator is a two-week choreographic program created by principal dancer David Hallberg. Supported by The Howard Hughes Corporation, this process-oriented lab gave me and four other choreographers the opportunity to generate ideas for the work we have been inspired to create.
It's contest time! You could win your choice of Apolla Shocks (up to 100 pairs) for your whole studio! Apolla Performance believes dancers are artists AND athletes—wearing Apolla Shocks helps you be both! Apolla Shocks are footwear for dancers infused with sports science technology while maintaining a dancer's traditions and lines. They provide support, protection and traction that doesn't exist anywhere else for dancers, helping them dance longer and stronger. Apolla wants to get your ENTIRE studio protected and supported in Apolla Shocks! How? Follow these steps:
Ilaria Guerra only joined Alonzo King LINES Ballet in January, but she's already a towering presence in the San Francisco company—and not just because she's 6' tall. Guerra employs her seemingly infinite limbs with luscious fluidity and propulsive power, instinctive musicality and a self-assured presence. And as exquisitely as she embodies King's choreography, she also makes it entirely her own.
So you're on layoff—or, let's be real, you just don't feel like going to the studio—and you decide you're going to take class from home. Easy enough, right? All you need is an empty room and some music tracks on your iPhone, right?
Wrong. Anyone who has attempted this feat can tell you that taking class at home—or even just giving yourself class in general—is easier said than done. But with the right tools, it's totally doable—and can be totally rewarding.
Today, we are thrilled to announce the honorees of the 2018 Dance Magazine Awards. A tradition dating back to 1954, the Dance Magazine Awards celebrate the living legends who have made a lasting impact on dance. This year's honorees include:
How do you honor a comedian lauded for her physical humor and awkward dancing? Commission a contemporary dance, of course. Better yet, have the stars of HBO's "Broad City," Abbi Jacobson and Ilana Glazer—physical comedians and awkward dancers in their own right—star in a contemporary dance.
Last month, comedian Julia Louis-Dreyfus was awarded the 2018 Mark Twain Prize for American Humor at The Kennedy Center. (The ceremony airs tonight on PBS.) Most known for her role as Elaine on "Seinfeld," Louis-Dreyfus has had a long career of tickling funny bones, from her start at Chicago's Second City, then on "Saturday Night Live," CBS's "The New Adventures of the Old Christine" and now as foul-mouthed Vice President Selina Meyer on "Veep."
The "Broad City" gals determined that the best way to honor their idol was to dance, an appropriate choice considering "The Elaine," the dance that became Louis-Dreyfus' piece de resistance on "Seinfeld." (Not to mention her other go-to physical comedy moments as Elaine, like "The Shove"—hands on the chest, forcefully pushing one's companion back, sometimes with the exclamation "Get out!"—or the twitchy forefinger devil horns.)
What makes big-time music artists and their collaborators think they can directly plagiarize the work of concert dance choreographers?
And, no, this time we're not talking about Beyoncé.
Last Wednesday, country artist Kelsea Ballerini performed her song "Miss Me More" at the Country Music Awards. The choreography by Nick Florez and R.J. Durell—which Taste of Country said "stole the show" and Billboard lauded as "elaborate"—features a group of dancers in white shirts and black pants performing with chairs onstage, often arranged in a semicircle. They move in quick canons, throw their heads back, and fling themselves in and out of their chairs.
When it comes to flexibility, more isn't always better. Donna Flagg says that many of the dancers who show up at her Lastics Stretch Technique classes at studios like Broadway Dance Center and Steps on Broadway are already hypermobile.
"They're so loose," she says, "they just yank their legs as far as they can." That's not to say that hypermobile dancers shouldn't stretch—they just need to take extra care to keep their joints safe. Flagg recommends a few guidelines:
Many choreographers use spoken word to enhance their dance performances. But the Campfire Poetry Movement video series has found success with a reverse scenario: Monticello Park Productions creates short art films that often use dance to illustrate iconic poems.
When I was just a little peanut, my siblings and I used to find scrap paper and use them as tickets to our makeshift dance performances at family gatherings. They were more like circus shows, really, where my brother was the ringmaster, and my sisters and I were animals; we dove through imaginary flaming hoops and showcased our best tightrope acts with the suspense of plummeting into an endless pit of sorrows. This was my first introduction to the beauty of movement as a way of communicating.
Photo by Lindsay Linton
Choreographer Ronald K. Brown sees himself as a weaver—of movement, but more importantly, of stories. "When I started my company Evidence 33 years ago, I needed to make a space for what I thought of as evidence—work that tells stories, so that when people saw the work, they would see a reflection or evidence of themselves onstage," says Brown, now 51. "That was my mission, my purpose."
Fast-forward to today: Evidence has become a mainstay in the modern dance world and Brown is now considered a vanguard among choreographers fusing Western contemporary dance with movement from the African diaspora, including popular dance and traditions from West African cultures like Senegalese sabar.
She may not be the first choreographer to claim that movement is her first language, but when Crystal Pite says it, it's no caveat: She's as effective and nuanced a communicator as the writers who often inspire her dances.
Her globally popular Emergence, for instance, was provoked in part by science writer Steven Johnson's hypotheses; The Tempest Replica refracts and reimagines Shakespeare. Recently, her reading list includes essays by fellow Canadian Robert Bringhurst, likewise driven by a ravenous, wide-ranging curiosity.
General director of Spoleto Festival USA since 1995 and, for two decades (1998-2017), the director of the Lincoln Center Festival, Nigel Redden has an internationalist's point of view on the arts—expansive, curious, informed by the cultural wealth that the world has to offer.
He is the son of an American diplomat and grew up moving from place to place—Cyprus, Israel, Canada, Italy—until eventually setting of for Yale to study Art History. After visiting the Spoleto festival in Italy as a young man, and working there while he was still an undergraduate, he very quickly realized what he wanted to: direct festivals. And that's what he has done for most of the last quarter century.
No, she isn't like other artistic directors, and that's not just because she's a woman. Lourdes Lopez, who's led Miami City Ballet since 2012, doesn't want this to be taken the wrong way, but as for her vision? She doesn't really have one.
"I just want good dancers and a good company and good rep and an audience and a theater—let us do what the art form is supposed to be doing," she says. "I don't mean that in a flippant way. It's just how I've always approached it."
Dancers are human, which means they're bound to make mistakes from time to time, both on and off the stage. But what happens when those mistakes burn bridges? In an industry so small, is it possible for choreographers and performers to recover?In a moment of vulnerability, three-time Emmy Award winning choreographer Mia Michaels opened up to Dance Magazine about some of the bridges she herself has burned, the lengths she's gone to in order to rebuild and the peace she's made with the new direction her career has taken because of them. —Haley Hilton
The entrancing power of Instagram can't be denied. I've lost hours of my life scrolling the platform looking at other people documenting theirs. What starts as a "quick" fill-the-moment check-in can easily lead to a good 10-15 minute session, especially if I enter the nebulous realm of "suggested videos."
My algorithm usually shows me professional ballet dancers in performances, rehearsals, class, backstage and on tour, which I quite enjoy. But there are the other dance feeds that I find myself simultaneously intrigued and horrified by: the hyper-elastic, hyper-extended, gumby-footed girls always at the barre doing developpés to six o'clock. There are the multiple turners, the avid stretchers and we can't forget the endless balancers.
This parade of tricksters always makes me wonder, What else can they do? Can they actually dance?
New York City Ballet fired principal dancers Amar Ramasar and Zachary Catazaro on Saturday. Both had initially been suspended until 2019 for engaging in "inappropriate communications," while principal Chase Finlay, who was the instigator of those communications, resigned. (Although, in a statement on Saturday, NYCB made it clear they had decided to terminate Finlay prior to his resignation.)
The New York Times reports that NYCB says the change from suspension to termination resulted from hearing the concerns of dancers, staff members and others in the NYCB community. Yet it's hard to ignore the fact that a lawsuit against NYCB had been filed in the meantime. A statement from NYCB executive director Katherine Brown and interim artistic team leader Jonathan Stafford stated:
"We have no higher obligation than to ensure that our dancers and staff have a workplace where they feel respected and valued, and we are committed to providing that environment for all employees of New York City Ballet."
Since the news was announced, both Catazaro and Ramasar have spoken out publicly about being fired.
Paul Taylor cultivated many brilliant dancers during his 60-plus-year career, but seldom have any commanded such a place of authority and artistry as Michael Trusnovec. He models what it takes to become a great Taylor dancer: weight of movement, thorough grasp of style, deep concentration, steadfast partnering, complete dedication to the choreography and a nuanced response to the music.
Trusnovec can simultaneously make choreography sexy and enlightened, and he can do it within one phrase of movement. Refusing to be pigeonholed, he has excelled in roles as diverse as the tormented and tormenting preacher in Speaking in Tongues; the lyrical central figure—one of Taylor's own sacred roles—in Aureole; the dogged detective in Le Sacre du Printemps (The Rehearsal); and the corporate devil in Banquet of Vultures.
Based on the novel by Roland Topor and the 1976 Roman Polanski film, The Tenant follows a man who moves into an apartment that's haunted by its previous occupant (Simone, played by ABT's Cassandra Trenary) who committed suicide. Throughout the show, the man—Trelkovsky, played by Whiteside—slowly transforms into Simone, eventually committing suicide himself.
But some found the show's depiction of a trans-femme character to be troubling. Whether the issues stem from the source material or the production's treatment of it, many thought the end result reinforced transphobic stereotypes about mental illness. We gathered some of the responses from the dance community:
Update: Raffaella Stroik's body was found near a boat ramp in Florida, Missouri on Wednesday morning. No information about what led to the death is currently available. Our thoughts are with her friends and family.
Raffaella Stroik, a 23-year-old dancer with the Saint Louis Ballet, went missing on Monday.
Her car was found with her phone inside in a parking lot near a boat ramp in Mark Twain Lake State Park—130 miles away from St. Louis. On Tuesday, the police began an investigation into her whereabouts.
Stroik was last seen at 10:30 am on Monday at a Whole Foods Market in Town and Country, a suburb of St. Louis. She was wearing an olive green jacket, a pink skirt, navy pants with white zippers and white tennis shoes.
Whether or not you see yourself choreographing in your future, you can gain a lot from studying dance composition. "Many companies ask you to generate your own content. Choreography is more collaborative now," says Autumn Eckman, a faculty member at the University of Arizona.
Look beyond the rehearsal studio, and you'll find even more benefits to having dancemaking skills. "Being a thinker as well as a mover is what creates a sustainable career," says Iyun Ashani Harrison, who teaches at Goucher College. "Viewing dance with a developed eye and being able to speak about what you're seeing is valuable whether you're a dancer, a choreographer, an artistic director or a curator."
Succeeding in composition class often has more to do with attitude than aptitude. Above all, you need "a willingness to play along and explore," says Kevin Predmore, who teaches at the Ailey/Fordham BFA program. "You have to let go of the desire to create something extraordinary, and instead be curious."
Egg Drop Soup's "Partying Alone" video turns a run-of-the-mill dance team audition on its head with a vision of female power from a mature woman. The panel is stunned when a gray-haired, red-lipsticked 80-something tosses aside her cane and lets loose, flipping her hair—and the bird.
Egg Drop Soup - Partying Alone (Official music video)
Take a second look at that head-banging grandma—she is none other than renowned dance researcher and anthropologist Judith Lynne Hanna. An affiliate research professor in anthropology at the University of Maryland, College Park, the author of numerous scholarly books and an expert witness in trials for exotic dancers, she has spent her career getting us to think about dance's relationship to society. Hanna, 82, said she hadn't performed since college when she got a call from a music video producer, who caught a video of her dancing with her 13-year-old grandson. The rockers of Egg Drop Soup loved her energy and flew her out to Los Angeles for a day-long video shoot. We spoke to Hanna about the experience.
Tired of the typical turkey and stuffing? For Thanksgiving this year, try something different with these personal recipes that dancers have shared with Dance Magazine. The ingredients are packed with dancer-friendly nutrients to help you recover from rehearsals and fuel up for the holiday performances ahead.
If anyone raises an eyebrow at your unconventional choices, just remind them that dancers are allowed to take some artistic license!