at the Shubert Theatre, April 28-30

Lar Lubovitch creates incredibly graceful choreography. His dancers glide across the stage like ice skaters–as if they no longer recognized gravity, or as if the natural friction between feet and floor no longer existed. His dances are so well balanced and elegant it seems almost impossible to criticize them. On the other hand, they’re so emotionally shallow they’re almost silly. Somehow, despite Lubovitch’s skill as a choreographer, his concert at the Shubert felt like an annoying cross between Hee Haw and the Ice Capades. It’s almost as if Lubovitch puts a plastic slipcover over his dances because they’re so pretty he doesn’t want to dirty them with real emotion.

Even in a relatively fun dance like Concerto Six Twenty-Two (performed to Mozart), Lubovitch’s dancers don’t actually get to have fun–they have to act like they’re having fun. There are a lot of folk movements in this light, airy piece. Dancers waltz in a circle, hips and arms swaying gently. Sometimes they slap their knees; sometimes they do a jazzy shoulder roll. People created these movements because they were fun to do. But Lubovitch presents a glazed-over, kitschy portrait of people frolicking, suitable for hanging on a kitchen wall next to ceramic country ducks and photos of droopy-eared puppies.

So in Love, Lubovitch’s most recent dance, bounces through four Cole Porter tunes sung by contemporary icons Tom Waits, the Neville Brothers, Annie Lennox, and K.D. Lang. The first dance, “It’s All Right With Me,” is a solo for an angry, tough woman who flings her long brown hair and claws at the sky. But Lubovitch can’t avoid being smooth and light (or should it be “lite”?) in his choreography. Despite some assistance from Waits’s hard-edged, raspy voice, this dance comes off as artificially angry, and the final moment when the dancer flicks some imaginary guy the bird seems hollow.

Don’t get me wrong, there are some worthwhile moments in Lubovitch’s work. Four Ragtime Dances, set to music by Charles Ives, comes off as slightly less fluffy, and there’s a well-balanced duet for two men in Concerto Six Twenty-Two: they come together in a strong, gentle affirmation of male love. The “Ev’ry Time We Say Goodbye” segment of So in Love has some nice moments. But it wasn’t until the last piece on the program, Waiting for the Sunrise, that Lubovitch’s choreography seemed to make sense. Danced to the country music of Les Paul and Mary Ford and Johnny Puleo and his Harmonica Gang, Lubovitch’s blend of virtuosic technique and kitschy emotions suddenly seemed right.

In the middle of the first section of Waiting for the Sunrise, I was suddenly struck by an image of Lubovitch as a young man. I imagined that he discovered dance at one of those tap, jazz, and ballet studios run by unmarried women in small towns and big cities across America. I could picture him lying on his bed on a warm night right around spring-recital time. A breeze blew the curtains, country music escaped from the transistor radio, and Lubovitch stared at the ceiling, envisioning the beautiful dances he would someday make with this music for his own spring recital. My heart warmed to him then. His choreography seems never to have lost the cheesy air of a spring recital. At the same time, it hasn’t lost the love of movement either.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Chris Callis.