Marimba: Still Entranced by Lar Lubovitch

As a sophomore in college I had the distinct honor of dancing Lar Lubovitch’s Marimba. John Dayger, long time Lubovitch rehearsal director and dancer, set the work in a number of marathon weekends- a process that proved to be my first REAL introduction to professional dance.

REWIND

I entered college from a dance studio owned by a couple of ‘adagio’ dancers. I studied ballet, pointe, jazz, and tap.  I taught classes to children. I dabbled in a little choreography. Dance notation to me, meant the notebooks filled with either stick-figures with counts or short-hand representing choreography that the studio owners created and I was to teach my classes. Choreography simply meant an assembling movement together and that movement was intended to demonstrate the skills we’d hopefully developed throughout the year.

When I interviewed for entrance into the dance major program and interviewed for a scholarship, my future mentor asked me my favorite choreographers. Having had zero dance history education apart from what I read in Dance Magazine and a book my first ballet teacher gave me, I listed Gene Kelly, Fred Astaire, and…Lar Lubovitch.

At this point you might think to yourself, “huh?! These are the three she lists? Kelly (mainstream), Astaire (mainstream), and…..Lubovitch (NOT mainstream for a girl growing up in a rural town in Michigan.).” The thought strikes me as odd, too.

The thing is, my dad likes to arrive places early. And I mean EARLY (especially when he’s anxious).  So, I had about an hour and half to kill in the hallways of the dance department before another auditionee arrived. There was still probably another half hour before check-in.  During this time, I read every article on every bulletin board I could find. Since Lubovitch had been in residence the year prior, his company performing and teaching several master classes, there were a lot of articles about the company’s presence and about Lar Lubovitch himself.  I recognized his name. Honestly. Remember, I was an avid reader of Dance Magazine.  And I thought I had seen some of his work on PBS. (To this day I am not sure that is true). Yet in my mind, in the span of two hours, he’d come to be one of my favorite choreographers.

RE-DEFINE

Magically, I was cast in Marimba during my sophomore year. It was the most intense dance experience I’d ever had. In fact, I think that was the most intense dance experience I have EVER had but mainly due to my age and level of training at that point. Here are some of the things that challenged everything I thought I knew about dance at that time.

Counting: Mostly 8’s. Sometimes 5’s or 7’s. Always consistant.

Lubovitch: 11, 12, 7, 5, 13, 9, 9,…..it was alllll over the place and actually had to be counted out loud by the group in order to keep track. Skipping 6 and 7 of course because the sound resonates into the house.

Composition tools: they exist

Lubovitch:  they are complex, beautiful ideas that shift movement into meaningful visual pictures and contextual ideas. They may also make you want to stab your eyes with forks because they can be that complex and relentless.

Cast:  the people that co-exist with you in Time and Space

Lubovitch:  No man is an island and without these people, you are sunk.  They are your life-line. And if someone happens to make a mistake in the fifth of a twenty-two minute piece that impacts the entire cast and the success of the entire piece, well….you better find acceptance and forgiveness because: 1. sooner or later that person will be YOU and 2. there is going to be another run of the piece in 5 minutes and anger will just get in the way.

Conditioning:  there is this thing called your “center”

Lubovitch:  nothing helps you find your center like running in plie for a 7 hour rehearsal on Saturday and doing it again on Sunday for 5. (Not to mention the 3 hours on Friday night). Weekend after weekend after weekend. (Which follow weeks of dancing 6 hours minimum per day). That kind of knowledge gets you through your 5 hour dance day when still moving (dancing) in the 9th month of your second pregnancy.

Elastoplast® is a miracle product when you have splits and blisters

Dancer’s tools:  shoes, mostly and then calluses

Lubovitch:  Elastoplast® is the greatest invention in the world. Second only to gaff tape (maybe).

RETURN to current day…..

So, this has all come up because yesterday during dinner I had a very powerful movement memory of a section from this piece. Sadly, I cannot remember the full name of the section….it was something like Big Turns, Fast Turns, Sudden Death.  It is my favorite movement I’ve ever danced, mainly because I love turns, speed, and being off-center. Then, when you divide movement by half each time it is repeated it becomes a wonderful, death-defying movement puzzle that keeps you engaged for…..umm….over a decade. Yikes!!

REFLECT

I dance, for most of the year, every single day. But this is the dancing I miss. The kind in which every cell of your being is engaged because your life, or the life you have dared to imagine for yourself, depends on it.

The Body, Part I: A Passion Observed

Woman watches a stage full of eccentricly collected performers saturated in power, expression, individuality, character, and grace.

Instead of seeing each detail, woman feels her way through the action, the story, the statement.  The experience transcends vision, permeates the body, infects the core, stops and starts the beating heart.

Unable to speak, tears brimming, woman witnesses the creator take the stage and command his dancers to proceed, recede, bow, and exit.  The show is over.  The impression made, is not.

Eleven or so months later, woman watches the creator’s intensity as he feels his way through the exerpt of this powerful work as he is recognized with one of the nation’s highest artistic award, the Kennedy Center Honor.  As soon as the movement begins, tears start streaming down her face.  She immediately re-enters the “place” she was in when watching this moment of this piece live, but this time there are pregnancy hormones to contend with, accounting for her tear soaked shirt.  The man is Bill T. Jones. The woman, of course, is me. The piece was Fondly Do We Hope…Fervently Do We Pray. 

I first considered calling this piece, “The One” but I thought that might not sit that well with my husband, although he is fully aware and supportive of my feelings for Bill T. Jones.  So maybe, “The Other One.”  Or, “The First One” since I did discover Bill T. before Scott D.  Nah,…better to preserve feelings and marital bliss.  (Honey, you’re the real deal.)

Bill T. Jones changed my life.  I had appreciated his work upon introduction through a 20th century dance history course.  But it was watching the PBS Bill Moyers documentary about Still/Here in a Senior Seminar class that really rocked my dance existence.   Bill T. Jones scared me in the most exciting and positive way.  His work spoke to me aesthetically, but more importantly demonstrated the power of physical, non-verbal communication and the responsibility of the dance artist to guide others through this process.  I became very aware of my comfort in pretty, visually interesting but “safe in meaning” movement.

Still/Here, Jones’ work referencing terminal illness, struck/strikes a personal chord for me.  My mother passed away at the age of 48; when I was 13.  She had severe asthma and emphysema and in the years she was ill, I remember the frustration she could not verbally express. Language simply didn’t cover it.  While her body would not have been helpful, she was winded after walking from one end of our small ranch-styled house to the other, I can’t help but think structured movement in a contained way, may have offered some form of emotional relief.

As an adult, I realize that dance may not have served as an outlet for her, but it certainly did for me.  I have always easily recognized that dance has been my constant.  In a life full of change and multiple directions, dance has always been there.

As a dancer, I am familiar with muscle memory and the ability of the body to recall movement.  After researching the role of the body in Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (and the success of using structured movement experiences to alleviate the physical symptoms of PTSD) I also understand the ability of the body to recall emotion.  Having these two elements present themselves through two bodies over the same experience, was striking to me.  In watching the Kennedy Center Honors, I had an emotional recall response while watching Bill T. Jones have a physical recall response to the performance of his dancers.  Once again, I am reminded of the power of dance.  I am aware of the prism that dance provides: opportunities to see, to feel, to consider, to live.

In a recent interview with Tom Ashbrook of NPR’s On Point, Bill T. Jones discusses briefly the state of our current union, citing his feeling that we are in “an undeclared civil war” with no clear boundaries or sides.  I agree.  Often in the last few weeks/months, I have felt the world has lost its mind.  Much of what my husband and I count on- in our community, in our careers, and in our consciences- seems under attack.  Our perceived road to stability never felt fully paved, but feels more and more like a dirt road filling with potholes.  Maybe those pregnancy hormones are getting to me again, but this is certainly an interesting and sometimes disconcerting time to live.

Ironically, in some ways, this brings me back to my constant:  dance.  For the first time, perhaps ever, dance has not been the first constant in my life.  Over the last two years as my career has suffered some bullets, as programs or hours have been re-organized offering a sense of instability and related anxiety.  But, in hearing Bill T. Jones express in words how our current world relates to the dance he created about our world’s past, I am comforted if not encouraged.  He articulated physically and verbally, my emotion.  He found the language I was seeking. It explains my response when seeing the work live, and again on TV.  Once again, the power of dance prevails.  This time, however, it didn’t have to be my physical body in control in order to make peace.  It was done through bodies I’ve never met but understand on an intrinsic level.  Bill T. Jones continues to change my perspective and thus change my life.

My Nutcracker Prince

Today I shared The Nutcracker with my three year old son.  For ease and change of pace, I decided to show this to him on television, thanks to PBS and our DVR.  We enjoyed San Francisco Ballet’s version which aired on our PBS station last night.  G-man sat through the entire ballet, only once asking when the dancers were going to talk, and repeatedly commenting that the Spanish dancers looked a little like his beloved action figure “Indiana Jones.”  I think it must have been the hats.

When his dad asked his favorite part, he told him about the growing Christmas tree but at other parts of the day he talked to me about the snowflakes and the silly dancing bear.  There was much of this ballet that I didn’t particularly love, but I was thrilled that my little man seemed to appreciate the entire thing.  He’s seen plenty of dance, but less ballet than anything else.  He has a passion for “Singin’ in the Rain” and regularly imitates Gene Kelly by swinging on the lamp in our living room and jumping in any puddle he can find on the driveway.  While there is not the opportunity to sing along with the soundtrack, Tchaikovsky’s score, with its relative character themes keeps the action pushing forward when, for a three year old, the dancing blends from one scene to the next.  Overall, I think he enjoyed it and I expect to see some new movement vocabulary in the coming days.

For me, Classical ballets have limited appeal.  I loved them as a child because that was what I was exposed to and what my parents viewed as appropriate dance for a child to see.  It was the only dance performance my mind could really grasp outside of recital dance. But even as a kid, I preferred less narrative driven dance with more unique movement potential, although it was harder to find, especially when my parents didn’t understand it and therefore didn’t really want to share it.  Is this ballet’s advantage?  Generally G-rated, accessible dance, with clear story and ‘safe’ characters and plot?  Prescribed movement that audiences have seen in some capacity and can readily digest?  Shape and line with little to interpret on an emotional or intellectual level?  Maybe.  Not to say that isn’t brilliant; it just isn’t usually my cup of tea.

Except….

  • when I sit in the audience, the overture begins, and the curtains open to present the New York City Ballet in all of Balanchine’s genius and respect for a classical ballet that brings families together and sends goosebumps up and down my arms.  I am captivated, awed, and flooded with all of the best sensations of being a kid again.  My physical memory of falling in love with dance overwhelms me and puts me in my place.  At heart, I am a fan and always will be.  I am thankful for my Nutcracker foundation in viewing and valuing concert dance.
  • when I share dance with my toddler son and remember how incredibly dance can communicate with all ages and both genders when given the chance.
  • when I show the Mikhail Baryshnikov and Gelsey Kirkland version to my classes of high school students in a semi-urban setting, days before Winter break, and they actually watch it, ask questions, and bravely offer their reactions because even if they’ve only seen the Barbie (?!) version before, it is familiar.

One must love any kind of dance that can do all of that.