On my birthday in 1973, Lar Lubovitch's young company performed at the Wisconsin Union Theater. It was the first second-generation modern dance troupe I'd ever seen, and I remember being very excited. Lubovitch returned later that decade, but it's been years since he's been back to town.
Lubovitch, a Chicago native, fell into dance as a college freshman majoring in art and gymnastics at the University of Iowa. Inspired by a performance by modern dance luminary José Limón, Lubovitch headed for New York. In the days when modern and ballet were opposing forces he chose to study with Limón, Martha Graham and also 20th-century master ballet choreographer Anthony Tudor.
That background provided building blocks for a new style. In the '70s, Lubovitch's dancey works were a stark departure from the breath and guts theatrics of Limón or Graham, a meaty counterpoint to the new postmodern oeuvre of ordinary moves.
Lubovitch's long career runs the gamut of Terpsichorean pursuits. He's choreographed for everyone from American Ballet Theater to Olympic ice dancers (among them Dorothy Hamill, Peggy Fleming and John Curry). And he's never stopped creating dances for his own company, though it hasn't toured in 10 years.
"I felt overextended, so we took a hiatus," he says. "So much of our energy was spent being on the road and recovering when we got home - creatively, I was moving sideways instead of forward. I needed to stay in New York and involve myself with new creations. I've been steadily building new repertory, but this is the first time I've taken it on the road."
Lubovitch's new works, like the old ones, are mostly pure movement. Like ballet, Lubovitch's style is highly athletic and technically evolved, though his dancers come from diverse backgrounds. "It doesn't matter how they train, as long as they're fit and able, and wide-ranging in their vocabulary," he says. "I'm not limited to just one language. I use ballet, modern, jazz - everything I experienced as a dancer, and I was in a lot of different companies. The underlying idea is to see the music through dance. Each piece requires dancing that emulates or expresses its essence."
Musical non-ballet set on strong dancers isn't cutting-edge anymore. Mark Morris, once in Lubovitch's company, sometimes works in this genre. So does eclectic UW-Madison-based choreographer Jin-Wen Yu. In the right hands the approach looks lush, but it pales compared to the message-laden contemporary masterpieces of Bill T. Jones, or Dwight Rhoden and Desmond Richardson of New York's Complexions. New York Times reviewer Roslyn Sulcas called a recent Lubovitch concert "a perfectly safe option for a dance-virgin friend."
But Lubovitch's company beats the technical pants off most local groups, and there are new works to catch up on. "Men's Stories" dates to 2000, but "Dvorak," to the "Serenade in E," premiered in New York last year, and "Jangle: Four Hungarian Dances," to Bartok, is brand new. In Madison, where performances by major dance companies are few and far between, this ticket's a good choice even if you've danced around the block a time or two.