Repertory Dance Theatre set to open its 56th season with North Star, featuring works of choreographer Lar Lubovitch

Quietude. Relaxation. Contemplation. Meditation. Natural euphoria. This week’s 56th season opener for the Repertory Dance Theatre (RDT), featuring the works of choreographer Lar Lubovitch, sets an ideal tone for a soothing return to a live stage concert that a performing arts company could program for audiences, not seen since early 2020.

All three works for North Star, the 65-minute dance concert, epitomize Lubovitch’s signature embrace of choreography that allows the audience to sit quietly and let the dance movement and music direct their brains and consciousness to a near trancelike state of appreciation and connection to the performance.

Two of the works — Marimba (1976) and North Star (1978) — are being featured for the time in an RDT performance. The third is Something About Night, a work the choreographer created in 2018 to celebrate his company’s 50th anniversary, which was performed by RDT as part of its 54th season opener in 2019. Katarzyna Skarpetowska also joins the production as repetiteur.

The concert will run three performances Sept. 30 – Oct. 2, daily at 7:30 p.m., in the Jeanné Wagner Theatre of the Rose Wagner Center for Performing Arts in downtown Salt Lake City. For those wishing to see the production on a streaming platform, it will be available, starting Oct. 8.

Lar Lubovitch.

Lubovitch, 78, is one of the foremost American choreographers whose career is about to mark its 60th anniversary. Starting as a gymnast, Lubovitch, in an interview with The Utah Review, says that the spark to switch to dance came after watching a performance of the José Limón Dance Company. “It was instantaneous,” he recalls, “like the proverbial light bulb.” He set out ambitiously, first at the University of Iowa and then later at The Juilliard School. He whet his appetite for choreographing by attending annual American Dance Festival along with workshops and sessions with contemporary dance legends including Limón, Martha Graham and Alvin Ailey.

But, as much as he absorbed the knowledge of the titans of the art form, he quickly realized that it was “absolutely imperative” to develop his own movement language and vocabulary. For example, a 2012 review in The New Yorker, reminded readers of how “accomplished he is at ravishing the eye.” The review opened with, “In Lar Lubovitch’s choreography, the swirl of dancers moving in unison to a sweeping piece of music is a thrilling sight. Underneath his lush phrases, individuals are always visible, their personalities emerging in the clarity of their dancing.” 

Lubovitch’s connections to RDT go back to the 1970s, in the company’s first decade, when Linda Smith, one of RDT’s co-founders, was also a dancer. RDT was the first company to commission a work from Lubovitch – Sessions, which premiered in 1975.

A deep admirer of Lubovitch’s artistry, Smith in a 2019 interview with The Utah Review, said that Something about Night is “so musical and its gorgeous, picturesque movement is like a masterpiece painting.” In his own program notes, Lubovitch said, “the work was composed using fragments of many dances I’ve done over the years, little moments in duets and trios. But mainly, my motivation was that I want to be quiet. I think I value quiet now. And in this dance, I’m seeking a quieting of the mind.” Smith adds the work’s technical execution is so transparent that any slip or error in movement cannot be masked.

When RDT performed Something About Night, The Utah Review’s account of the rendition was “‘Wow!’” The review continued, “Lubovitch selected four songs that Schubert set to text about the night – ethereal and sensuous and choreographed with the most transparent technical demands. … Each of the four dance tableaux became living paintings that literally could have been produced at the time of the composer’s life in the 18th century but they also are timeless.” Featuring five dancers including a duet and solo as part of the four sections, Something About Night uses a recording of the Schubert songs performed male chorus (conducted by the late Robert Shaw and sung by the Wiener Vokalisten).

Lubovitch says that from his earliest choreographic experiences he has been devoted to selecting music that opens up to sculpting movement that enhances the experience of listening to and letting the music wash over the experience for both dancers and audiences. He was one of the first choreographers to use the music of minimalist composers in the 1970s as foundations for setting dance movement, notably Steve Reich and Philip Glass. Minimalism might have been at the front and center of the music stage for barely the span of the 1970s but its impact has stretched into the current century. Composers responded to vigorous philosophical and artistic clashes over formalism and serialism as well as complex atonal music with an aesthetic that would endure in some forms as trance and ambient music. 

Lubovitch accurately describes the period of minimalism as a “gentle rebellion.” Indeed, minimalism offered the effective rationale for doing away with the distinctions between classical or high art music and popular or low art counterparts. It was a democratizing moment for music, helped along by dance artistry’s wel furnished instincts for artistic democracy, an ideal that Lubovitch has welcomed and championed in his career.

Something About Night, Lar Lubovitch, Repertory Dance Theatre. Photo Credit: Sharon Kain.

Certainly, Reich and his minimalist colleagues embraced the musical foundations of Central Asia, the Indian subcontinent and other Eastern traditions. These include the music and dance of Bali as well as aesthetic influences from Sufism and the Buddhist ideal of satori. There also was the character of shamanist rituals and polyrhythmic musical structures, which enhanced the effects of looping repetitions of rhythm. The effect could at times become a gentle luring into a pleasurable state of semi-hypnosis. Hence, Reich’s music propels Lubovitch’s Marimba, which he says was “choreographed almost immediately.” To wit: Lubovitch says it is to embody and emulate a trancelike state. Listening to Reich’s music, one can make the connection to the foundations of the disco and electronica aesthetic that emerged and carried over long past the brief moment minimalism enjoyed in the composing spotlight. 

Lubovitch was just as mesmerized by Philip Glass’ North Star, which the composer wrote in 1977 as his first film score for a documentary, directed by Barbara Rose and François de Menil, about American sculptor Mark di Suvero. In Lubovitch’s dance composition with the same name as the Glass score, the dancers depict a constellation of celestial bodies. Anna Kisselgoff, who was a dance critic at The New York Times for nearly three decades, wrote, “North Star is one of his most enduring, complex, and haunting works. Intoxicating from a movement perspective alone, North Star is also multi-layered choreography. Its metaphoric substrata delve into the movement of celestial bodies and the interdependency of North Star is one of his most enduring, complex, and haunting works. Intoxicating from a movement perspective alone, North Star is also multi-layered choreography. Its metaphoric substrata delve into the movement of celestial bodies and the interdependency of the human form, its body parts and its central nervous system.”

Audience members are reminded to wear a mask during the concert. Seating in the house will accommodate recommended social distancing guidelines. For more information about the concert and tickets, see the RDT website.

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