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IMPRESSIONS: Works & Process at the Guggenheim Presents "Lar Lubovitch at 80: Art of the Duet"

IMPRESSIONS: Works & Process at the Guggenheim Presents "Lar Lubovitch at 80: Art of the Duet"
Deirdre Towers/Follow @deirdre.towers on Instagram

By Deirdre Towers/Follow @deirdre.towers on Instagram
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Published on December 9, 2023
"Lar Lubovitch at 80." Photo by Erick Munari

Choreographer: Lar Lubovitch
Dancers: Tobin Del Cuore, Brett Perry, Alexandria Best, Elliot Hammans, Alex Brown, Stephanie Godsave,  Adrian Danchig-Waring, Davide Riccardo; Fabrice Calmels, Gillian Murphy, Sonia Rodriguez, Paul and Isabelle Duchesnay
Composers:  Gustav Holst, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Duke Ellington, Franz Schubert, Elliot B. Goldenthal, Johannes Brahms

Date: December 3, 2023

When two individuals give each other space, support one another, honor their quiet moments of connection, and watch each other intently, you have a healthy relationship. When you witness a couple doing all that and also helping each other to walk on air, fly, and stretch improbably while bound together, you’ve seen a Lar Lubovitch duet. His choreography has an emotional purity, etched with architectural clarity.

Elliot Hammans and Alexandria Best in Prelude to a Kiss duet from Nature Boy by Lar Lubovitch. Photo by Erick Munari

Works and Progress at the Guggenheim Museum made a bow to Lubovitch in his 80th year with this program of duets excerpted from his ensemble works. With the exception of his 1997 duet from “Othello - a Dance in Three Acts” which concludes with strangulation by rope and the steamy “Prelude to a Kiss” (2005), Lubovitch portrays lovers who are respectful, genuine, and level-headed. Performed superbly here by Fabrice Calmels and Gillian Murphy, the murder in “Othello” seems inevitable, given the fervor of their impossible union. When Elliot Hammans pulls down the costume off Alexander Best’s shoulders in “Prelude,” Lubovitch tweaks the tension between the couple by pausing. Finally, Hammans dives down to kiss her naked shoulder while Best plies in a controlled melt, back to the audience, eyes only for him.

Gillian Murphy and Fabrice Calmels in Finale of Act III from Othello – A Dance in Three Acts by Lar Lubovitch. Photo by Erick Munari

Opening the program was Lubovitch’s lyrical duet from the 1995 ice dance film “The Planets”; closing it was the duet from (2021) “Each in His Own Time.” Neither of these duets measure up to the genius of his duet from “Concerto Six Twenty-Two.” (1986). Set to a soaring score by Mozart, this male duet has a palpable tenderness, from the slow, measured barefoot walk in, heads down, one arm behind the other’s back, one hand resting on his shoulder. Their fingers open off the shoulder, rise to create an oval behind their heads. Their other arms curve inward creating a figure eight with the four arms. Slowly the upward oval curves down and the two face each other as the musical phrase concludes. Just when the woodwind solo begins, the two soar back-to-back, parallel to the floor with their arms outstretched, their heads nestled in a sculptural ecstasy reminiscent of so many George Balanchine duets. This duet captures the potency of a light touch: one rests his back on the other’s leg, lifts the other from the ground, or gently pushes the other forward. Lubovitch follows the flow of his arc, and that of the composer so that you indeed see the music. At one point, a dancer cups a ball of air and throws it. The other repeats this graceful imaginative gesture. 

Davide Riccardo and Adrian Danchig-Waring in Each In His Own Time by Lar Lubovitch. Photo by Erick Munari

Works and Process frames their programs with the opportunity to hear the artists’ thoughts and to experience their work from their perspective. Lubovitch mentioned that he chooses scores that prompt him to dance and then listens to them over and over again. A bit wistfully, he said that dancing to classical music is considered “old fashioned” now.  Wendy Whalen, Associate Artistic Director New York City Ballet, chatted with Lubovitch after this program of duets, all excerpts from ensemble works. Being a principal dancer with the New York City Ballet for 30 years, she asked him  about studying with Jose Limon, Antony Tudor and Martha Graham at Juilliard and about his preparation before he entered the studio. Lubovitch said that he feels his intuition is much smarter than his intellect and that he responds to the dancers before him. He recalled Picasso saying that he would begin by painting a shape, draw a line and then have to solve the problem it presents. In her next life, Whalen said, she hoped to perform a work by Lubovitch.

Lar Lubovitch and Wendy Whelan. Photo by Erick Munari

This program has been supported with a residency provided by New York Public Library for the Performing Arts, Jerome Robbins Dance Division.

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