Capturing Music, Releasing Dance: Lar Lubovitch Dance Company and VisionIntoArt Collaborate at River To River

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I’m intrigued by the idea of new dance work stemming from new music. Choreographers regularly commission a composer to create music for their dances, but how often do composers commission choreographers to create dances for their music? VisionIntoArt, co-founded in 1999 and directed since 2006 by composer Paola Prestini is a “multimedia production company that creates interdisciplinary works stemming from new music.” This was the first I’d heard of dance being commissioned to accompany music.

For the 45th year anniversary of Lar Lubovitch’s dance company, Lubovitch collaborated with the organization to present a night of dance and music premieres on Tuesday, June 25th. This performance was part of the River To River summer festival that features free art events all throughout Lower Manhattan.

For Tuesday evening’s program at the Michael Schimmel Center for the Arts, dance pieces alternated with performances of just music—though these usually had a video projection in the background.

The performance opened with Helga Davis’s a cappella song called WANNA, for Lar. Davis sang expressively and the lack of non-vocal instrumentation lent her performance great intimacy and vulnerability.

The next piece, Listen, Quiet, a world premiere, featured music by Prestini consisting of cello, a percussionist (at a station that included marimba), and some recorded sound of voices and other noises. Lar Lubovitch Dance Company members Nicole Corea and Reed Luplau danced fellow company member Katarzyna Skarpetowska’s choreography. At least the last five minutes of the piece had the couple sitting on either side of the stage…listening quietly, it seemed. So the dance element was short-lived, not that I missed it much.

This piece didn’t deliver on the exciting premise that was established. The set-up was rich: two lovely dancers, two musicians, bottles and other do-dads suspended from the ceiling for the percussionist to improvise on, a film projected on the back wall, and even the choreographer sitting on a chair with a typewriter at the end. Her tapping added to the sounds of the music (live and recorded) while the dancers sat still. These elements added up to a not-terribly-interesting piece. The choreography offered little movement or feeling that was engaging, and the whole thing went on too long.

Next was LIgNEouS 1. Again, there was a projection on the back wall without which I could have done just as well. A line was drawn and curved around, changed colors….meh. But the music composed by Andy Akiho for two violins, one viola, one cello, and marimba was very enjoyable. There were interesting rhythmic changes and percussive elements alongside the sustained notes of the stringed instruments.

Crisis Variations from Lar Lubovitch featured a composition by Yevgeniy Sharlat performed live. A man and woman were highlighted out of the seven dancers, dancing two duets within this group piece. They had the most interesting material–their movement had a floppy quality–controlled enough to complete a step, but with release at the end. They also had some lifts and weight shares, which I do enjoy watching. The ensemble work was less unique in quality and didn’t leave any definite impression on me.

Composer Daniel Wohl’s Capture/Release was the most beautiful of the music premieres of the evening, with violins, cello, viola, double bass, keyboard, and percussion. I believe there was a video projection for this too, but I wasn’t watching. I just listened, mostly with my eyes closed.

The final piece, and another premiere was Lubovitch’s As Sleep Befell, for six men, with another composition by Prestini. The men were bare-chested with long white skirts. Again, nothing wrong with this dance. Perfectly fine. There was nothing to really draw me in, though I enjoyed the music.

My most honest reaction was what I texted to a friend when she asked how the performance was. “Good! Yea. Kind of run-of-the-mill modern dance, but there were some cool music pieces which made it more exciting.”

I realized that I am less critical of music than dance because I know much less about it. When I see concerts, I’m inclined to enjoy the music and even be impressed by the musicians’ technical abilities and the composers’ creativity. I understand how dances can be made, but composing music is beyond me. (Though, I’m sure it’s much the same as dance composition—perceived rules, breaking them, a shared vocabulary, and manipulations of time and space.) Maybe the saying about each of us being our own worst critic applies to entire communities as well. Those involved in the dance community are the most inclined, and even the most qualified, individuals to criticize or critique it. If one knows an art form intimately and cares about it deeply, it is easier to see its strengths and weaknesses and more difficult to simply appreciate it for what it is.

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