"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.
This month, American Ballet Theatre principal David Hallberg sees the first test of his directorial chops with the launch of ABT Incubator, the company's latest initiative to promote the creation of new ballets, particularly by in-house talent.
In 2016, Lar Lubovitch decided that New York City's Joyce Theater needed a new look. He envisioned extending the stage outward so that audiences could sit on all sides. And that is pretty much what happened for his Quadrille series, and it was so refreshing that the series returns this year, with a new bunch of intrepid choreographers. I say intrepid because the choreography may be seen from unplanned angles, and the dancers are more exposed.
For the audience, if you're sitting under hundreds of lighting instruments overhead, you naturally feel like you are onstage. And if you're sitting in the usual seats, you see the performers onstage, with half the audience behind them. The whole set-up can be pleasantly disorienting.
Lar Lubovitch has made more than 110 dances for his troupe, the Lar Lubovitch Dance Company. For the celebration of its 50th anniversary, the choreographer has programmed his bracing Men's Stories: A Concerto in Ruin (2000) as well as a premiere titled Something About Night, set to choral music by Schubert. The inclusion on the program of The Joffrey Ballet in a quartet from his Othello (1997) and the Martha Graham Dance Company in Legend of Ten (2010) testifies to Lubovitch's command of both ballet and modern dance idioms. Young choreographers would do well to study his craft and passion. April 17–22. joyce.org.
A watershed moment. That's how choreographer Lar Lubovitch recently described his now-classic A Brahms Symphony. Now, a group of 16 George Mason University dance majors are having their own watershed moment with that jubilant work: They will dance it at the venerable Joyce Theater in New York City, where they will close the 50th anniversary season of the Lar Lubovitch Dance Company on April 22. It's such a big deal the college president, Angel Cabrera, likened it to when the basketball team made it to the NCAA Final Four.
Since starting his company in 1968, Lar Lubovitch has stood at the forefront of modern dance—although he is hesitant to label his work as "modern."
"I've always felt I've been making dances," he says. "I've always called them dances and I've never been one to exclude any language of movement. When I'm making a dance it's sort of an essay of all the movement I have in my body of all the dance I've studied."
After 50 years of creating dances, his work is still as technical and humanistic as ever.
She had a varied, flourishing career that included dancing for Lar Lubovitch, touring with the Bad Boys of Dance, and performing at Radio City Musical Hall and in Broadway shows. But Kamille Upshaw really wanted to make Mean Girls happen.
Not because she'd known Reginas or Plastics in high school—at Baltimore School for the Arts, her classmates were too busy pursuing dance, music, or other "artsy things" to form the obnoxious cliques that Lindsay Lohan experiences in the movie. But when the teen comedy by "Saturday Night Live" giants came out in 2004, Upshaw and her friends watched Mean Girls over and over and over. It was "an obsession," she says.
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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.
When Attila Joey Csiki returned to New York after seven years of dancing for Tokyo Ballet, he knew he needed a break from traditional company life. He reached out to an old friend he had always respected, and asked if they could catch up. Steven Caras, a former New York City Ballet dancer and photographer, ended up giving Csiki life-changing career guidance: a recommendation that he should try dancing for Lar Lubovitch, as well as a personal introduction to the choreographer.
“Steven thinks a little more logically than many artists because he has had executive positions," explains Csiki. “It was almost like he was interviewing me. We watched videos of my dancing. I got booked in Movin' Out and received a contract at Hubbard Street Dance Chicago, but I ultimately turned down both. At that time, Lar's company was a yearlong commitment, it was small, I loved the choreography and there was a lot of touring. It was a perfect fit."
Mentors are those people in our lives who have the ability to see our talents clearly and the wisdom to advise us accordingly. No matter where you are in your career, there is someone who has been there before who may have just the guidance, pep talk, tough love or listening ear you need. A mentor/mentee relationship can develop with an older colleague, a choreographer, a teacher, a boss or a friend, but for a mentee to make the most of the relationship, an open mind and a respectful rapport are required.
“When I hear 'Do what your heart says,' from someone I look up to, it makes it so much more reassuring." —Attila Joey Csiki. Photo by Christopher Duggan.
Finding a mentor is similar to developing a friendship. Instead of forcing it, be patient and observant, so that an organic connection can emerge. “You will often kind of know if a person might be interested in mentoring you before you even have to ask," says Hanna Brictson, dancer and assistant rehearsal director with River North Dance Chicago. “A connection is sometimes obvious based on personalities."
Pay attention to the people in your life who seem curious about and invested in your future, and listen closely when they offer up their wisdom. For Brictson, commitment and hard work when she was a student naturally brought out the career advice of one of her teachers. “She pushed me to branch out, suggested I move around and try certain teachers, and guided me with her opinions," reflects Brictson of her first mentor, whom she credits with helping her find a professional dance path.
For Csiki, who now performs in the Broadway hit An American in Paris, working with Lubovitch eventually developed into a fruitful mid-career mentorship. “My relationship with Lar has changed over the years from director to friend to mentor," says Csiki. “I always ask him 'What's my next move? What do you think?' And when I hear 'Do what your heart says,' from someone I look up to, it makes it so much more reassuring."
Timing Is Everything
While enthusiasm and ambition can be great traits, it is important not to overwhelm a possible mentor early on with difficult questions or demands. Most mentors will be open to your questions; usually it is just a matter of when you ask. “With Lar, there were times when he was in a creative space and I knew it wasn't a good time to talk or interrupt him," says Csiki. “But if we were on a plane or in an airport and I could sit next to him, that was a good time to talk, or after a good, light rehearsal I might say 'Let's get a beer.' " Karina González, principal dancer with Houston Ballet, remembers, “When I was younger, if I wanted to get help from someone, sometimes I would stay longer after rehearsal and see what developed."
You don't have to have a personal relationship to have respectful timing. Remember that your mentor has his or her own workday and stresses. “Before class is not a good time," says Brictson, “because it is a dancer's Zen. But maybe right after class, at the water fountain, you can ask, 'Do you have time to talk or help me out with choreography at lunch or later this week?' " Don't spring any requests or dump news on your mentors. Instead, suggest a time in the future to talk to give them advanced notice.
What's Off Limits?
While there are no set rules to how a mentor can guide you, both inside and outside the studio, there are ways to make sure you do not cross the line and abuse the privileges of the relationship. Brictson helps run the audition for River North every year, which often places her in the office discussing dancers and choreography. “A student of mine had been auditioning and was given an opportunity to do the summer program but was never offered an apprenticeship. She would text me asking why and I felt like she was using me," says Brictson. “You want to use your connections, but don't forget to look at it in a professional manner." Be respectful of boundaries both personal and professional. The less overtly opportunistic and the more eager you are to simply learn and grow, the more your mentor can help you, particularly in those surprising ways you never even knew you needed.
Every year the Benois de la Danse gathers top dancers from around the world in a whirlwind two-day event in May. For its 20th anniversary, held at the lavishly restored, czarist-flavored Bolshoi Theater in Moscow, the Benois, known more in Russia and Europe than in the U.S., attracted a full house both nights.
The award in choreography went to Lar Lubovitch, the only dancemaker in the U.S. to be so honored. When receiving the award, he said, “I make dances, which is a crazy thing to do. What’s crazier is that the world allows me to do it.”
The winning ballerina was Alina Cojocaru (who could not be there) and the male prize was tied between Mathias Heymann of Paris Opéra Ballet and Carsten Jung of Hamburg Ballet.
The program included Lubovitch’s mesmerizing sculptural duet from Meadow and Neumeier’s wistful falling-in-love scene (with bench and lamppost) from Liliom, danced by previous Benois winner Hélène Bouchet and Jung. The Bolshoi Ballet contributed a section of Don Quixote led by a sweetly proud Yevgenia Obraztsova, a 2012 nominee.
The gala, on the second night, featured dazzling ballerinas. To emphasize tradition, it was bookended by excerpts from Sleeping Beauty and Balanchine’s Diamonds. POB’s magnificent Marie-Agnès Gillot (see July cover story) performed a quirky premiere, by Stéphen Delattre. The most striking piece was Distant Cries by Edwaard Liang, which he had set on Bolshoi superstar Svetlana Zakharova and Andrei Merkuriev, also of the Bolshoi. The choreography’s liquid quality, flecked with accents, brought out Zakharova’s elasticity as well as her daring.
The jury, chaired by Yuri Grigorovich, included Neumeier, Jorma Elo, Alessandra Ferri, Laurent Hilaire from POB, Manuel Legris (now heading Vienna State Ballet), and Kim Joo-Won of Korea National Ballet. These luminaries made the walk from the hotel to the theater full of impromptu meetings and conversations. —Wendy Perron
Kate Skarpetowska and Brian McGinnis in Lubovitch’s Meadow. Photo by Mikhail Logvinov, Courtesy Benois.