Once upon a time, Lar Lubovitch had a company of incomparable dancers. They understood his work, and they understood how to perform together. That was before funding and touring possibilities for dance declined. Lubovitch still works with incomparable dancers, but, it’s evident from the program bios that this is in essence a pick-up group. Like Lubovitch, who sets works for other companies, as well choreographing Broadway musicals, the dancers he assembled for a spring season at the Skirball have additional allegiances, and many are performing with the Lar Lubovitch Dance Company for the first time. They’re spectacular: Rasta Thomas, Charlie Neshyba-Hodges, Sean Stewart, Kate Scarpetowska, Scott Rink, Drew Jacoby, to name just a few. There’s nothing these people can’t do. Except (at least on opening night) dance truly together.
The three pieces—two of them world premieres—shown at the Skirball demonstrate Lubovitch’s musicality, plus his gift for creating clever steps and filling the stage with patterns that swirl and reconfigure like an errant constellation viewed in speeded-up time. The dancers attack them expertly and vigorously. But in the midst of my admiration, I’m also thinking how much spirit the works would gain if the performers were more aware of one another and of the wit in Lubovitch’s choreography.
The five great old pop songs that accompany Love’s Stories (premiered in 2005 by Hubbard Street Dance Chicago) are sung in recordings by Kurt Elling, (his recorded performance unfortunately marred by the Skirball’s overamping). Sean Stewart leads the cast’s three couples in the final old beauty,”Smoke Gets in Your Eyes” and opens the work, soloing to “Nature Boy,” while the others stare at him as if alarmed by his creaturely maneuvers. To “The More I Have You,” Jay Franke and Charlaine Mei Katsuyoshi gambol as archetypal cute ingenues, while the marvelous Skarpetowska and Marty Lawson dance more passionately. Their song, “Prelude to a Kiss,” ends with what it anticipated: Lawson pulls his partner’s blouse off her shoulders and buries his face in her neck. Neshyba-Hodges and Harumi Terayama stand out in “Every Time We Say Goodbye”—fast of foot and, happily, attentive to each other and the bittersweet message of the tune.
Little Rhapsodies is a gem. In this trio for three men (attractively costumed by Ann Hould-Ward), Lubovitch shows what clever footwork he can devise and what a variety of expressiveness he can draw from Robert Schumann’s Symphonic Etudes, opus 13, exquisitely played by Pedja Muzijevic on an onstage Steinway. The style of the choreography brings to mind Jerome Robbins’s Suite of Dances (made for Mikhail Baryshnikov) and portions of his Dances at a Gathering. The men— Thomas, Franke, and Stewart—acknowledge one another by clicking their heels together with a military flourish, and when they aren’t leaping and rushing about, their steps and manner occasionally allude to the earthy springiness of the czardas and the mazurka. Jack Mehler’s lighting, oddly drab in Love’s Stories, creates a sunny space for them to frolic in.
Lubovitch has given the lyrical solos to Thomas, who’s a marvel. He projects romantic yearning—not through a generalized attitude but through awareness of the space around him and a sensitivity to the dynamics of the music. In the livelier passages, he wears his silky virtuosity easily, making the most difficult steps look as natural as walking down the street. Franke and Stewart are terrifically accomplished dancers, but Stewart, who consistently impressed me when he was a member of American Ballet Theatre, looks restrained and chilly in Lubovitch’s choreography, for all his admirable clarity. Not until the end do the men really acknowledge one another. Before that, they too often miss conveying the humor of the steps and their pleasure in one another’s company. I sit there thinking, “Look at him, for God’s sake! Dance with him! It’s not just about you. Make this choreography really soar!
Dvorák Serenade, set to four movements of the Czech composer’s magisterial Serenade in E Major, opus 22, is a lush, romantic piece. Jonathan E. Alsberry, Karen Moore, and Kevin Scarpin join all those mentioned above (minus Thomas) to create sweeping patterns—wreathing around one another, rushing past, slipping through lines. In their floaty white clothes by Wendy Winters, they look like an assemblage of minor Olympians when they part to create an avenue for the entrance of a pair of tall deities: Drew Jacoby and Rink. Why there seems to be no chemistry between these two beautiful people when they dance together is a mystery, but their exalted maneuvers offer a fine contrast to the pulsing ensemble passages and the lively foursome (Katsuyoshi, Franke, Skarpetowska, and Neshyba-Hodges) that takes over the stage during Dvorák’s lovely waltz.
It would be wonderful if all these exceptional performers could continue working together, able to dig deeper into Lubovitch’s creations.