Lubovitch illuminates human nature through dance

Dancers Katarzyna Skarpetowska and Brian McGinnis performing in "Crisis Variations." Photo by Paula Lobo.

Dancers Katarzyna Skarpetowska and Brian McGinnis performing in “Crisis Variations.” Photo by Paula Lobo.

Lar Lubovitch choreographs based on human quality. It is his aim, as he said in a post-show interview at the Regina A. Quick Center for the Arts, to evoke a sensation, not a story, out of his viewers.

But the audience, as humans, may construct stories to make sense of what they witness on stage – and what they saw was breathtaking.

A playful choreography opened the Oct. 4 show, featuring characters who attempted to find their path in life, only to be discouraged as the dance progressed. The following duets focused on relationships between a man and woman: one that is mutually strong, like a bull fighting a bull, while the other a game of cat and mouse in a curtains-lifted display of emotional and physical abuse. The concluding piece provided an amusing take on the word “crisis.”

The company opened the night with “Transparent Things,” set to Claude Debussy’s “String Quartet in G Minor, Opus 10.” According to the program, Lubovitch drew inspiration from Pablo Picasso’s “Family of Saltimbanques,” a painting that shows characters looking off into the distance, pensive, and living a “fragile existence.” Lubovitch compared these subjects to his dancers, who also choose to embrace unsure lives in the name of art.

In one segment of this dance, the tempo slowed and with it the dancers’ movement. Attila Joey Csiki, who opened the dance, sunk to the floor and went still, as if life had gone from him. The lights transitioned to emit a blue, ethereal background. Csiki’s friends witnessed him downtrodden and like a domino effect, his friends adopted the same sullen disposition.

They became more rooted to the ground as opposed to their springy, carefree leaps at the beginning of the dance. A quiet ambience settled among the dancers, and there, with the ending, a universal downside was exposed: dance as “an art that only exists when it is actually happening,” as the program said.

As impressive as the first dance was, the duets and concluding dances were far more compelling.

In “Vez,” a reimagined version of Lubovitch’s “Fandango” choreography from 1989 that is set to Randall Woolf’s “Vez,” there were moments when partners Nicole Corea and Clifton Brown would not touch, but the sensual and sexual chemistry between them could not be more evident. This is the power of dance: its ability to connect participants through how the body moves and not just through bodily contact.

But when Corea and Brown did touch, they often intertwined their bodies around each other, becoming one. “Vez” proved to be a sparring and combative conversation between two dancers – both sides determined to win.

“The Time Before The Time After,” choreographed in 1971, made its return as the second-to-last performance of the night. Seconds into the dance, with a spotlight fixed on partners Reed Luplau and Katarzyna Skarpetowska, the audience sensed tension just about to boil over. Luplau stood posed, a hand about to strike Skarpetowska. Then, Igor Stravinsky’s “Concertino for String Quartet” picked up and a dance was set in motion.

Skarpetowska initially maintained a strong presence, bounding away from her partner, only to be stopped by Luplau’s vice-like grip on her wrist or his hand pulling her back by the hair. At its core, this dance narrated a life of inescapable violent intimacy.

In a particular phase of the dance, the music tempo slowed down and Skarpetowska’s fighting will went with it. The audience knew that the dancer depended on her lover, but what also became clear was that Luplau was nothing without her. His ability to exert dominance depended on his prey; with sharp twists and pivots and unyielding extensions, Luplau gained his power by depleting Skarpetowska’s.

By the end, she gave in and slid down to the floor, back onto her knees, subservient, and Luplau gathered her into a possessive embrace, devoid of comfort. The experience came across as voyeuristic, with the audience witnessing a gripping occurrence, instigated by Skarpetowska and Luplau’s magnetic movement onstage.

The most disconcerting and high-energy choreography could be found in the closing piece, “Crisis Variations.” Once again, the company brought back all of its dancers. Lubovitch revealed in a post-show Q-and-A that the music, which usually inspires his choreography, took a backseat role. He only taught his dancers the moves and rhythm he expected, and then the dancers heard the commissioned music score a day before premiering in 2011.

The purpose of this last-minute change? He wanted to maintain a sense of chaos and confusion – and he certainly succeeded.

The dancers’ movements appeared halting and seemingly accidental, their bodies lurching back and forth, like cars stuck in spasmodic traffic.

Skarpetowska took on another principal role, oftentimes allowing herself to be a ragdoll, carried and dragged across the stage by dancer Brian McGinnis. While the storyline for this piece was unclear – done surely on purpose by Lubovitch – the audience could feel the sensation of chaos.

With Friday night’s performances, Lubovitch proves that he still has a vision, even into his 50th year of choreography, and that his dance company, now in its 45th year, remains determined to help him construct it. It is also not necessarily a bad thing that dance is a fleeting art, with an impact that can only be experienced live. It means that each choreographed performance can exalt itself as new and powerful. For now, Lubovitch and his dancers manage to extend the life of dance until the company’s next performance.

The company will continue to celebrate its 45th anniversary with performances at The Joyce Theater, 175 Eighth Ave. and 19th Street, from Oct. 8 to 13 and Oct. 15 to 20.

Philadelphia Dance Company Gives Breathtaking Performance

With its astounding and intricate dancing and amazing choreography, the Philadelphia Dance Company (PHILADANCO) brought great pleasure to the audience at the Quick Center last Friday.

Fairfield University hosted PHILADANCO, founded by Joan Myers Brown in 1970, as it celebrated its 40th year with a quadruple bill of modern and classical dances.

The show opened strongly with “Violin Concerto,” which included choreography by Mitch Myers and music by Philip Glass. Its success was due largely to its lyrical performance. Each intricate movement from the dancers reflected the pitch and height of the music until the audience could almost envisage the dancers as the instruments producing the sounds. They danced with intensity locked in soft and fluid movement.

The sensitivity in the opening Concerto II contrasted with Concerto III, but its performance was no less impressive. At the end of  Concerto III, the audience seemed to release a collective breath, signaling the end of a dance so intense that the audience sat in distilling awe.

The intimacy of this segment was heightened by the beautiful lighting designs, done by Clinton Taylor. The vibrancy of the dancers was represented by bright and warm colors like orange and yellow. Somberness played through blue and violet settings.

The program continued with a contemporary modern piece called “Cottonwool,” with music from Christopher L. Huggins. To the enjoyment of the audience, the dance piece was more playful and more percussion-based. Visual colors emphasized and changed with the speed of dance moves.

Perhaps the best segment of the dance performance was the inventive execution of “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner,” choreographed by Ray Mercer. Unlike the previous performances, the dancers used a prop that could either hinder or enhance their performance: a table.

The audience watched in anticipation as the dancers weaved over and under the table that stood at least three feet tall. Any slight movement from the table could have been hazardous to the dancers, whose stability was grounded in the table. The table was also used in levels, where one performer danced above another. Thrilling the hearts of observers, the dancers successfully performed particularly dangerous moves.

Music also added to the drama of this particular segment. The intermittent beats in “Dinner” allowed the audience to hear the breathing of the dancers, heightening the intimacy between the performer and the observer.

The fourth segment with four works demanded laughter: cue the afros and white dance suits, and suddenly, the dancers transformed into partygoers of the 50s, 60s and 70s who came to enjoy a colliding mesh of funk music. This segment displayed the range of the dancers’ skill and energy, allowing their personalities to shine through with a loose, party-style number that had the audience clapping along to the riff-based soundtrack blasting from the overheads.

How can anyone expect anything less from the company that The New York Times calls “exuberant?”

PHILADANCO continues to be celebrated for its innovation and fusion of classical and African-American dance traditions.

Posted online in The Mirror: January 12, 2012