I’ve seen only five works by Lar Lubovitch, founder of the New York-based modern dance company that bears his name, but I’ve already spotted a pattern: a pattern of patterns, to be more precise. When a number of dancers are on stage, Lubovitch often molds them into living landscapes of shifting energy. Weight flows from one dancer to the next. Poses are seldom held for long, and the geometries change dramatically each second. The effect sometimes brings to mind ripples traveling through water, or dominoes falling. At other times, the dancers seem like limbs extending from a singular body.
Lubovitch employs this skill brilliantly in Men’s Stories: A Concerto in Ruins, the first of two memorable works presented by his company on Saturday at the Baryshnikov Arts Center. Created in 2000 and featuring an all-male cast of nine dancers, Men’s Stories deconstructs masculinity, pitting individuality against group mentality. The men, who are remarkably varied in appearance, are at first dressed in tailcoats — like members of an elite gentleman’s club or, alternately, hotel doormen — and they showtheir physical prowess in what appears to be a routine: push-ups, spins, arms spread like airplane wings, legs kicking high. The group often disintegrates and disappears, allowing dancers to show unique personalities through solos and (sometimes romantically tinged) duets. Some performers (Nathan Madden) offer exhilarating displays of athleticism, and others (Jonathan A. Alsberry) are more introspective. None, however, can escape “the group,” which invariably returns to interrupt these moments of solitude. As the others flood the stage, the differences between the men fade and they again become anonymous parts of one machine. The efficient score, an audio collage by Scott Marshall, creates further tension by waging battle on itself, combining fragments of classical music, sound effects, and straight-up noise. Even a recording of an awkwardly humorous father-son chat about puberty finds its way in. (“Gee, our bodies are complicated, aren’t they, Dad?” the boy asks. They sure are.)
Men’s Stories, though often bleak and fraught with conflict, shows flashes of hope. There are no such moments in Crisis Variations, a chillingly psychological work that had its world premiere during this season. The mood is ominous before the dancers appear: The five-musician ensemble ensemble Le Train Bleu plays a nervous score by Yevgeniy Sharlat (based on Franz Liszt’s Transcendental Etudes) in the corner of an otherwise dark stage. A group of five dancers moves with desperation, forming huddles and heavy heaps of human debris. When they rotate in cluster formation, one woman seems to have been jammed in as an afterthought, her legs unceremoniously sticking out to the side. They compete for the stage with Katarzyna Skarpetowska and Brian McGinniss, whose partnering shows no tenderness, only frustration. The effort is mostly his, as if he’s trying to wake her from a deep sleep. She becomes paralyzed when he lifts her, behaving like an article of clothing. Her rare attempts at action fail: Resting on one knee while McGinniss drags her in a circle around the stage, she tries to lift herself but repeatedly crashes back to the floor.
As the work draws to an end, the couple and the group meet, and here we understand the dancers to be her demons and fears: confused chaos, always hovering nearby. McGinniss lets go of Skarpetowska and raises his torso, forming an arch over her inert body. Without warning, she slides backward, disappearing beneath the heap of five bodies. Her partner has given up, and without pause she surrenders herself to darkness.