Lar Lubovitch Dance Company at Baryshnikov Arts Center

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Lar Lubovitch Dance Company just completed the first few days of a 12 day run at the Baryshnikov Arts Center. We rarely see dance programs. When we do, it’s typically because we know someone who is accompanying them musically. That was true yesterday as well.

Dance confounds me. If it’s not too experimental (whatever that means to each person), there’s no doubt it’s beautiful. That said, I don’t often feel enveloped by it, as I do by a musical performance. I am an observer, often wondering what it is I am observing?

If you want to read what a professional thought of the three pieces we saw yesterday, it was reviewed in the NY Times. If you want to know why I’m confounded, here are a few choice sentences from that review:

But she couldn’t bring any character to the rest of the duet, which, like the alternating ensemble segments, too much resembles the effects of a wave machine in a bubble bath.

OK, I get the bubble bath description (though I thought I was watching a herd of gazelles, seriously). But, what does “couldn’t bring any character” mean? Seriously, what does it mean?!?

But the dance as a whole remains picturesque.

The But here is clearly meant to be derogatory (read the prior sentence to assure yourself). So, a picturesque dance is a bad thing? I guess so…

Yet in expanding upon the mysterious potential of the earlier duet, the new one disenchants.

That earlier duet is the same one he painted with the “couldn’t bring any character” to, so I’m not sure whether the earlier duet “enchants” or whether this one disenchants more. I guess the key is in the mysterious potential of the earlier duet (clearly, not achieved in the reviewer’s opinion).

Basically, he was underwhelmed. What I want to know is, was that a matter of taste, or were there specific things that could have been done to charm that reviewer?

I don’t have the training or understanding to give a serious review. I can only tell you how everything struck me. There were three pieces.

The first was The Legend of Ten set to a Brahms Quintet. The music was gorgeous, but piped in (recorded) over less-than-stellar speakers. It added a sterile quality to the performance that I haven’t experienced before, as nearly every other dance piece I’ve ever seen has had live accompaniment.

I already mentioned that I felt like I was watching a herd of gazelle’s dancing around on stage. There appeared to be a couple that were falling in love, with the herd alternatingly accepting and rejecting them (her). Am I correct in my interpretation? Who knows. There is no hint in the program of what the dance represents. More on that in a minute.

The second piece, Crisis Variations, was a world premiere on two fronts. The dance (choreography) was debuting, as was the musical accompaniment, a piece written by Yevgeniy Sharlat. This was the only piece with live music and was the reason we attended.

We’ve met Jim Johnston  (he’s known as James Johnston professionally) a number of times now, all in social situations. We have been interested in hearing him play (he’s a pianist) and have been unable to schedule it until yesterday.


Jim was excellent, playing on an electronic keyboard. That was necessary not only because of the space constraints but because he produced many different sounds, beginning with a harpsichord and including piano and organ sounds as well.

All five musicians were excellent, including Jennifer Grim on flute and piccolo. We saw Jennifer at The Morgan Library with Jim a few weeks back (covered here). The ensemble is called Le Train Bleu.

That said, the piece alternated between being very interesting and very dissonant for my taste. It had a statement to make, for sure, but I prefer my music to be more consistently melodic. Here’s what the NY Times reviewer said:

“Crisis Variations,” the season’s premiere, benefits from live music, excellently played by Le Train Bleu. Though Yevgeniy Sharlat’s score has an antic quality that might suggest silent comedy, the duet around which Mr. Lubovitch constructs his dance is floppy but not funny.

I guess what I called dissonant (in a very staccato manner), he calls antic quality. Le Train Bleu was formed and conducted by Ransom Wilson. We rode up in the elevator with him (without knowing who he was). He was charming and sociable, a person I’m sure we’d enjoy spending time with.

On to the dance part. The dissonant part of the music actually matched the dance very well. Perhaps more correctly put, Lar Lubovitch choreographed the piece to fit the dissonance extremely well.

I enjoyed this dance more than the other two pieces. Part of the reason is that I was sure I understood it. To me, I saw all of the dancers as marionettes, being controlled by an invisible puppeteer with invisible strings. Their movements perfectly mimicked what I would guess real marionettes would look like. The skill (to me) was exceptional.

Again, there were no hints in the program as to whether my interpretation was correct. Lois felt like she was watching scenes of domestic violence, to give you a sense of how radically different our perceptions were.

After the show we chatted for a minute with someone who said they thought it was supposed to convey the image of a van going over the side of a bridge, with the passengers being tossed to and fro as the van hurtled toward the water. Interesting that Lois’ interpretation might be considered closer to that, but marionettes, who can’t control their own movement isn’t so far off either.

I guess that people who love all art for art’s sake would say “Ah ha!”, Hadar, you finally get it. It doesn’t matter what the artist meant. It’s what you bring to the experience. Obviously, that’s true, but I always wonder why I sometimes can’t even see the remotest connection after the fact, if/when the original intent is explained to me. In other words, too abstract for me, like the all-white painting in the Met, which I’m supposed to be stopped in my tracks by.

The final piece was performed to a Dvorak Serenade (it appears to be unnamed, unless, of course, the name of the piece is Dvorak Serenade, which is likely the case). Again the music was piped in. Again the music was fantastic, except for the plastic sound through the speakers.

The dancers were dressed in night clothes (or that’s what it appeared like to me). That made me feel that the entire piece was meant to be a dream sequence. To me, the female dancer in the lead duet (Leigh Lijoi) appeared to be the dreamer.

All of the movements were lovely and fluid, and I probably preferred it to the first piece, but it wasn’t particularly interesting (like the middle one was).

There are no pictures of the performance in this post (highly unusual for us). Not only did they announce that there was no photography of any kind permitted, they actually said that it was prohibited by law. Obviously a laughable statement. Prohibited by policy of either the venue or the performers, fine, but by law? Hahaha. Still, we complied.

Of course, if you want to see a photo of what I thought were the marionettes, all you need to do is look at the NY Times review. I guess the law doesn’t apply to them.

Bottom line: I found the middle piece interesting enough to have made it worth my while to attend (though the prices for these shows are insane relative to seeing the absolutely extraordinary live music that we attend more regularly). I’m thankful that it was the reason that I attended in the first place.

Even though it was worth my while, I am sure that I will ignore all notices of dance companies in the future, until a musician that we love happens to be accompanying them again…


2 responses to “Lar Lubovitch Dance Company at Baryshnikov Arts Center”

  1. Ryan Wenzel Avatar
    Ryan Wenzel

    Oh no! I hope you won’t give up on dance because of one lackluster experience. I saw a different program by the company (also with “Crisis Variations,” though), and I really enjoyed it. Hope you’ll check out my perspective:

  2.  Avatar

    Ryan, thanks for your comment. I just read your writeup and enjoyed it. It certainly brought another perspective to Lar’s choreography, and yet another interpretation of Crisis Variations.

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