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Release: Nov. 10, 2000

Lubovitch's 'Meadow' carried forth the inspiration of his UI mentor, Marcia Thayer

IOWA CITY, Iowa -- The Nov. 2 and 3, 1999 American Ballet Theatre (ABT) performances of "Meadow" -- part of the Millennium Festival at the University of Iowa Hancher Auditorium --occasioned the return of world-renowned choreographer Lar Lubovitch to his alma mater after an absence of nearly 40 years.

Lubovitch did not actually graduate from the UI, which in those days did not even offer a dance degree, but the long absence has not dimmed his appreciation of the life transformation that occurred in Iowa City -- a transformation that was much more important to him than any diploma. "If there is any value to an educational institution, it’s to help people discover themselves," he says. "That happened to me here."

As is often the case with such transformations, Lubovitch’s dramatic change of course resulted from contact with one inspirational individual -- the late faculty member Marcia Thayer. Lubovitch arrived at the UI with two loves and skills -- art and gymnastics -- and he was considering a career in painting or sculpture. And then a pivotal event occurred.

"A woman named Marcia Thayer came to the gym, where we were practicing gymnastics, and asked if anyone would like to dance with her," he recalls. "It struck me as a fun thing to do. And she introduced me to a world I didn’t know existed, the world of dance. It was the two things I did best and loved most put together -- art and gymnastics."

Thayer quickly became Lubovitch’s mentor and supporter. "She was a unique spirit and an inspirational person," he says. "She was a person who was sort of a walking poem. She exuded a sense of artistry and dignity."

At that point, Lubovitch had never even seen a dance performance, so Thayer took him to a UI performance by the Jose Limon Company, one of the foremost modern dance companies of the time. Lubovitch declares, "That night was the discovery of my destiny."

Thayer advised Lubovitch to attend the American Dance Festival that summer, and after another year of classes at the UI he gained admission to the dance program at the famed Juilliard School in New York.

His extraordinary talent as a dancer was quickly recognized, with the result that Lubovitch was dancing in prominent ballet and modern dance companies while still a student. But his intention was always to be a choreographer, and he presented the first concert of his own work in 1968.

Emerging into the American "dance boom," Lubovitch and his company were soon touring the country and the world, exposing audiences to work that proved captivating to them. The Lar Lubovitch Dance Company toured for 27 years, but Lubovitch’s work proved much more far-ranging. His works -- renowned for their musicality, rhapsodic style, humanistic themes and sophisticated formal structures -- are featured in the repertories of prominent dance companies around the world, including the New York City Ballet, the Paris Opera Ballet and the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater.

Lubovitch has also made a notable contribution to the advancement of choreography in the field of ice dancing. He has created dances for Olympic gold medallists John Curry, Peggy Fleming and Dorothy Hamill, and he choreographed a full-length ice-dancing version of "The Sleeping Beauty," broadcast throughout Great Britain and America in 1988. His most recent ice-dancing venture was "The Planets," featuring Canadian Olympic skaters Isabelle and Paul Duchesnay and Brian Orser, broadcast on the A&E cable channel.

He made his Broadway debut in 1987 with the musical staging of the Stephen Sondheim/James Lapine musical "Into the Woods," for which he received his first Tony Award nomination. He choreographed the infamous "Dance of the Seven Veils" for the Circle in the Square production of "Salome," as well as "The Red Shoes" and the Broadway revival of "The King and I."

He was the moving force in the founding of Dancing for Life, a vehicle for the dance community to support AIDS research.

And through it all, he continued to take inspiration from Thayer. "I still have a letter that she sent me early in my days in New York," Lubovitch says. "I have referred back to it many times over the years, to keep myself on the right track. In that letter she said that true art is never born of hate, but only love."

It was fitting that a 30-year retrospective tribute to Lubovitch’s career in New York featured a film of his first work of choreography -- created at Thayer’s invitation -- discovered in the archives of the UI dance department. The screening of that film reaffirmed and renewed the inspiration he received from Thayer at the UI.

"I re-met myself -- the person I was when I began -- and I was very happy to find that I had changed very little, as far as the essence of what I was doing," Lubovitch says. "It really was a blessing, as a messenger of belief in myself."

Herbert A. and Janice A. Wilson were the Hancher commission sponsors of "Meadow" through the University of Iowa Foundation. The commission is also supported through Hancher by the National Endowment for the Arts. "Meadow" has remained an active part of the ABT repertory, including not only performances at City Center in New York this month, and at other prominent U.S. venues, but also an extensive Asian tour that included performances in Singapore, Hong Kong, Shanghai and Taipei.

Hancher’s season-spanning Millennium Festival featured more than 20 major commissions in music, theater and dance, with 15 of the commissioned works and productions receiving their world or American premieres in Hancher.

For UI arts information, visit this new address -- www.uiowa.edu/artsiowa -- on the World Wide Web. To receive UI arts news by e-mail, contact <deborah-thumma@uiowa.edu>.