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Lar Lubovitch: Bringing His Vision To Light

Photo courtesy of Orange Coast Magazine

(These photos were taken by Jack Mitchell, Stas Levishin, Arcady Lvov)


Thursday at 10:30 AM, a pair of jet-black Levi’s sneakers, black Nike sweats and a red, plaid button-up walked through the door of UC Irvine’s The Green Room Cafe.  A large hot coffee was ordered.  Above the collar of the plaid button-up is a head full of peppered gray hair and a chin and upper-lip growing white stubble.  This is Lar Lubovitch, a recent addition to UC Irvine’s dance faculty.  Around campus, he shows little expression on his face, a quiet mystery-man beyond the walls of the dance studio.  From an outside perspective, he is an enigmatic seventy-four year old.  But what is invisible in this coffee shop is his sharp sense of movement innovation and his ever-growing passion for the arts.

Lar Lubovitch grew up in Chicago.  He attended the University of Iowa and then the Juilliard School for his dance training where he graduated in 1964.  After working with several different companies, he created his own dance company in 1968 known as the Lar Lubovitch Dance Company.  He has choreographed over one-hundred pieces for the company and has choreographed on companies such as American Ballet Theater and the National Ballet of Canada.  Lubovitch has worked choreographing for Broadway musicals such as The Red Shoes, a rendition of The King and I, and Into The Woods for which he received a Tony Award nomination.  He has also choreographed ice-skating sequences for skaters including gold-medalists Dorothy Hamill and Peggy Fleming.

In July 2016, Lar Lubovitch became a distinguished professor in the UC Irvine Dance Department.  The Dance Department Head, Lisa Naugle first suggested a collaboration in 2013. Now in his second year at UCI, he is using this time to stage pieces on dance majors and to learn more about teaching students in an academic setting.  

When asked how he feels about teaching verses choreographing, he said that the two require two very different mental processes.

“Creating is more like free-falling through the mind without a safety net, but teaching is much more grounded and much more connected in a linear way” he explains.  “To teach, you have to organize your thoughts in a linear way; from A to B to C to D.  When you are free-falling through the imagination with a creative process, it’s often quite the opposite.  You are falling in totally disparate and disconnected places trying to find a way to make sense out of them.”

Lubovitch was extremely young when he first became interested in dance, in fact, he remembers the first time he ever created a movement sequence, which happened when he was just three or four years old.  One bitterly cold winter night, a department store across from where he lived caught fire.  Fire-fighters came, flooding the building with their hoses until the flames were extinguished.  The next morning Lubovitch saw what he described as “frozen waterfalls”.  Do to the extreme cold, the water from the hoses had cascaded through the windows freezing before it could hit the ground.  

“Inside of the waterfalls were all the objects that had been inside the store.  Like little lipstick cases, forks, and knives… little toys were all choked up inside these waterfalls,” Lubovitch recounts.  “In one of the waterfalls, I saw this little teddy bear… I immediately made up a dance about the teddy bear in the frozen water.”


Photo courtesy of DanceTeacher Magazine

(Photo by Rose Eichenbaum)


Lar Lubovitch’s piece “Marimba” will be featured in the Dance Department’s faculty show Dance Visions from February 22 - 24.  The piece was originally choreographed in 1976 and is known as a traditional trance dance --- rhythmic dancing sequences that are used to reach a new state of consciousness.  This was one of the first dances created with minimalist music.  The song by Steve Reich was what Lubovitch called “a revolutionary, radical move in music” and that he “wanted to become a part of that radical notion by creating a dance to it”.

The piece includes movements that emphasize fluidity, grace, and passion.  The cast contains ten dancers and two understudies and Lubovitch rehearses with them Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, three hours each.  While rehearsing, Lubovitch sat at the front of the studio, his body at the edge of his seat as he critically analyzed his dancers moving through the sequence deemed “sudden death” for its consecutive, fast-paced turns.  Alongside him sat his assistant --- and one of the dancers in his company --- Katarzyna Skarpetowska or Kate.  She held in her hands an artist’s sketchbook that includes markings representing the stage positions for a version of “Marimba” performed in 2008.  Lubovitch has an extensive repertoire and because of the intricacy of his work, it is difficult to remember every detail.  Having Kate, who performed in the 2008 cast, there to assist him is important for the piece’s accuracy.  Yet despite his age, Lubovitch is still very much part of the staging process, he got up and demonstrating small patterns in the dance in order to emphasize points he was trying to make.

The piece has four sections and is eighteen minutes long.  It has an emphasis on repetition and the dancers are always moving.  Keeping time with the music is also important, if a dancer is one count off it can ruin the whole effect of the piece.  The dancers are expected to understand the complexity of the piece and have to remember the material on a professional level.  One of his dancers, second-year dance major Jacob Boarnet believes that working with Lubovitch is different from working with other faculty members in the department.

“It does have a very different environment than other rehearsals, simply because he treats it as though it is a professional company, so the dynamic is very responsible and motivated,” Boarnet says.


Photo courtesy of DanceTeacher Magazine

(Photo by Rose Eichenbaum)


For the first hour and fifteen of the rehearsal, Lubovitch ran a complicated running sequence that is in the second part of the piece.  The dancers held their arms in an ‘L’ like position with their elbows attached to their sides.  Their hands were drooped in front of their stomachs, bending at the wrists, and swung back and forth complementing the direction in which the dancers jogged.  Lubovitch ran this section at least fifteen times.  By the final run, he seemed only partially satisfied.  Luckily the dancers have at least five more weeks to give him what he wants.  

When asked if he creates dances for a specific audience he said, “I choreograph only for myself.  I choreograph in order to bring my vision to light, to find a way to make it real rather than just imaginary.  Of course, I do it for an audience because we’re working in a performing art and ultimately it is for an audience but in order to create it I have to create it from and for myself and then hope that an audience also can identify with it.”


Arts major at the University of California, Irvine  
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