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Not only is 2008 the 75th anniversary of the American Dance Festival, it is the 40th anniversary of the Lar Lubovitch Dance Company, which is celebrating with a national tour — the first since 1995 — that began in Duke's Page Auditorium on Thursday night. The much anticipated presentation of Lubovitch's 1986 Concerto Six Twenty Two, danced to the late Mozart Concerto for Clarinet and Orchestra (K.622), followed three wonderful early works by Martha Graham (with whom Lubovitch studied) presented by the Martha Graham Dance Company.
The Graham Company has had its problems in recent years, but none were evident on the 26th. They opened with Steps in the Street, a section of the 1936 Chronicle, set to Wallingford Riegger's New Dance, Op. 18b. Its martial tones are echoed in the angular positions, slicing arcs and menacing militaristic jumps performed by the ten women in black gowns. Graham's choreography drew on the world conditions and the politics of the 1930s; sadly, the message remains relevant nearly three-quarters of a century later. Visually, it comes from the Art Deco era, and its clean-lined simplicity and definite quality are particularly welcome amid the welter of excess and ambiguity in some contemporary work.
The company's big piece for the program is the 1948 Diversion of Angels, which premiered at the ADF that year. It is danced to music by Norman Dello Joio, but it was inspired, visually, by a Kandinsky painting. As in that work, vivid streaks of red and yellow run through a pale scheme, and the dancers flow in and out of linear, circular and triangular arrangements. Diversion of Angels is about love, all kinds and times of love between men and women. It includes many beautiful dances, especially the men's leaping circle dance, and the woman in white's long-enduring arabesque.
Between Steps and Diversion is the brief, intense Lamentation, created by Graham in 1930 to Zoltán Kodály's Neun Klavierstucke, Op. 3, No. 2, and danced here by Elizabeth Auclair. From within a tube of stretchy cloth, a seated woman mourns and grieves, her writhing creating deeply expressive shapes. If Augustus Saint-Gaudens' Adams Memorial could move, this is what it would do. Even if you have lost no one to death, you know something about it if you've seen these artworks. But it was not just the power of image and emotion that made me and my companion gasp at this dance. We had seen it before — in 1967, when Martha Graham, near the end of her dancing years, toured the country. My friend saw her at Duke; I saw her in Minneapolis; the third friend who came running at intermission saw her in San Francisco. For each of us, it was the first experience of modern dance. For all of us, the images had remained vivid for 41 years. As ADF director Charles Reinhart is wont to say, "this dancing is powerful stuff!"
"Powerful" seems an inadequate word for the effect of Lubovitch's Concerto Six Twenty Two, which carries you into the sublime. Mozart's late music prepares you for beauty: He not only disarms you with his pretty charm, he slips behind your shield and removes your skin, so that you may wear those sounds like a silken robe. I must have listened to K.622 hundreds of times, but I have never heard it so well as when I saw the Lar Lubovitch Company dance it.
All in white the dancers come out, smiling and frisking through the Allegro, playful and lovely, the strict balletic forms and modern angles frilled up with imaginative details and blissfully silly variations. One relaxes into pleasure, happiness. Then, the Adagio, danced here by Griff Braun and Jay Franke. Two men, alone together. Moving gently, interlocking arms into a runic sign. Then moving more surely, with the clarinet like bright water bubbling from a spring. The men set something free, and fly into a series of lifts before reaffirming their runic message. 8 minutes of soul-cleansing music and motion, this dance is one of the most beautiful things I've ever seen. The work finishes with the Rondo-allegro, and the joy becomes universal.
The program continues at 8:00 p.m. on the 27th and 28th. See our calendar for details.