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Lar Lubovitch and Crisis Variations at the Baryshnikov Arts Center

November 22, 2011
“Crisis Variations” Pictured: L-R: Attila Joey Csiki. Nicole Corea, Reid Luplau, Jason McDole, Laura Rutledge Photo by Paula Lobo

“Crisis Variations” Pictured: L-R: Attila Joey Csiki. Nicole Corea, Reid Luplau, Jason McDole, Laura Rutledge Photo by Paula Lobo

I was rather thrilled, having received an invitation to witness the Lars Lubovitch Dance Company in performance at the Baryshnikov Arts Center. I had never seen the Company but had heard and read great things regarding both the company and the choreography.

But instead of thrilled, I just became confused. The first offering of the night was Men’s Stories: A Concerto in Ruins, created in 2000, it incorporated an audio collage and original music by Scott Marshall. The chorography was brilliant, it a masterpiece of lyricism. Filled with complex movement Men’s Stories is performed by an all-male cast of nine dancers.

Costumed in all-black formal attire with jackets with tailcoats by Ann Hould-Ward, that go though subtle variations,(jackets off, jackets on, rolled-up sleeves, mesh tee-shirts) the dance is a stunning display of masculinity and playful rivalry. Clifton Taylor’s masterful lighting gives the work a varying depth that allows the dancers to dance on the edges of pools of light, as if shadows of former thoughts haunting the stage. We see valiant displays of preening as only young men in their prime can do.

Men's Stories Photo by Chris Roesing

Men’s Stories Photo by Chris Roesing

The choreography is a rather brilliant mix of ballet and modernism. You have to be a strong dancer to even attempt the chorography and Lar Lubovitch has gathered a fine selection of young men for the feat. They are Attila Joey Csiki, Jason McDole, Jonathan A. Alsberry, Clifton Brown, Reed Luplau, Brian McGinnis, Carlos Lopez, Nathan Madden, and Milan Misko.

Men’s Stories is a weave of group ensembles and varying solos. The most stand out performance of the evening was Attila Joey Csiki. He is such a lyrical powerhouse that I was riveted to him each time he was on the stage. Jason McDole, a former veteran of Twyla Tharp was great in his solos, and one could not miss Bessie awarded Clifton Brown, formerly with Alvin Ailey along with Carlos Lopez  formerly with ABT, for both were exceptional.

Attila Joey Csiki

Attila Joey Csiki

The group ensembles were daring and the solos exciting, Attila Joey Csiki turned and leaped his movements filled with confidence and joie de vivre. There are strong movements, hand lifts into the air and using the fore-arms to lower to the floor. Rapid pirouettes then slow turns in attitude derrière with sharp crisp arabesque highlight the strength of movement and commitment the piece requires. There is not a linear storyline but rather vignettes and glimpse of conversations overheard.

Men's Stories photo by Rose Eichenbaum

Men’s Stories photo by Rose Eichenbaum

The ending was little short of a stroke of genius. With the men, back again in the tailcoats, in varying  position on the floor and  forming a circle, Jonathan E. Alsberry walks on stage with an approximately  two foot high and life-like marionette . Our newest little member greets each dancer in turn with a child like glee, he then enters the center of the circle and then lifts his arms slowly to a fifth position as if ready to perform his own solo, the stage goes black!

Men's Stories Photo by Chris Roesing

Men’s Stories Photo by Chris Roesing

But even with all that I was confused, for all the powerful, innovated and daring choreography that I found so exciting and such a thrill I found it hard to contend with the score for the piece. It is an audio collage with original music by Scott Marshall.  The backdrop of the collage seems to be Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 5, mixed in with what sounded like a jet taking off at the very beginning to a 50’s styled father and son talk of sex, something being sung by someone from the Billie Holiday school of blues, Latin chants, someone talking about Jerusalem Artichokes and a reminder that “history repeats itself! How this is supposed to work with the choreography, I am not sure. I found it a distraction from some of the finest dancing and superb choreography I had seen lately.

Crisis Photo Chang W. Lee The New York Times

Crisis Photo Chang W. Lee The New York Times

What to say about Crisis Variations? After the glimpse of genius I had seen from the choreography of Men’s Stories (except the score), I was left in further confusion. The score is by Yevgeniy Sharlat and alongside Crisis Variations is also a world premiere. It is influenced by Franz Liszt’s “Transcendental Etudes” and played live by Le Train Bleu, conducted by Ransom Wilson it was absolutely delicious to the ear. Both, Christopher Matthews for his flute and Patrick Posey for his saxophone must be mentioned for the virtuosity of their performances.

Crisis Variations is centered around the duet of Katrarzayna Skarpetowska and Brian McGinnis for which Mr. Lubovitch incorporates shapes that are innovated and unusual. Ms. Skarpetowska is dragged, pulled, slung and thrown. She reacts as if mystified to find herself in such a predicament, but seems to continually return for more. It is not so much as an abusive relationship but rather a relationship of decisions made of indecisiveness.

“Crisis Variations” Katarzyna Skarpetowska and Brian McGinnis Photo by Paula Lobo

“Crisis Variations” Katarzyna Skarpetowska and Brian McGinnis Photo by Paula Lobo

The group sections which consists of the dancers Nicole Corea, Attila Joey Csiki, Reed Luplau, Jason McDole, and Laura Rutledge are tightly knit cluster of bodies expressing and relating to one another. Lift and falls to the floor that are but roles which are defined by the parameters of each other’s reaction. The choreography seems to breathe easier and is almost pedestrian in make-up. Limbs are relaxed in lifts and movements, feet not pointed but just natural. Where the focus of Ms. Skarpetowska and Mr. McGinnis’s duet is more outward, the group dynamics is more internal. There is a sense of frustration that is prominent to the whole.

Katarzyna Skarpetowska- Brian McGinnis-Crisis-Chan W. Lee NY Times

Katarzyna Skarpetowska- Brian McGinnis-Crisis-Chan W. Lee NY Times

If perhaps I had seen Crisis Variations, which is only 20 minutes at the beginning of the night, I think my reaction and opinion of the piece would be different from the confusion I left the performance with. After the strength (except for the score) of the choreography and dancing of Men’s Stories: A Concerto in Ruins I found Crisis Variations somewhat of a disappointment. BUT, I would like to see it again, perhaps my conclusions were colored by my expectations and thus I was not allowing Mr. Lubovitch the freedom of expression and vision to which to express himself.

The New York Times has referred to Mr. Lubovitch as “one of the ten best choreographers in the world,” and Variety has called the company a “National Treasure”. I do not disagree with either statement in fact I strongly concur. As I have stated I am new to the choreography of Lar Lubovitch and to Lar Lubovitch Dance Company. Even though I left the performance somewhat in confusion, would I attend another performance of the company? Absolutely! There is a something that is very unique to Mr. Lubovitch’s vision, something I would be willing to experience again!

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