In the Joyce Theater’s Wednesday night program for the 45th anniversary of Lar Lubovitch’s company, Mr Lubovitch presented three duets – bits of fluff, really – and one enigmatic piece for nine men that has left me bewildered and yet decidedly in favor of it.

Duet from Concerto Six Twenty-Two, Attila Joey Csiki and Tobin Del Cuore, © Steven Schreiber
Duet from Concerto Six Twenty-Two, Attila Joey Csiki and Tobin Del Cuore,
© Steven Schreiber

It is clear from the three duets – the duet from Concerto Six Twenty-Two, Vez, and The Time Before the Time After – that Mr Lubovitch is a man of two things: shapes and musical phrasing. Limbs and pairings of bodies pause often in a perfect moment of tableau, as if to allow the audience time to savor a particularly aesthetically pleasing intertwining. Mr Lubovitch breeds masterful partnering: his dancers skirt the floor and spiral their way over shoulders and around pelvises. The first of these duets, from Concerto, is the most successful. Two men, dressed completely in white, approach each other with slow, controlled steps from opposite sides of the stage. Though their relationship is never made explicit, there is an emphasis on observation – each man watches as his partner completes a solo, drenched in arabesques and piques. Both men later cradle something invisible and fragile in their hands.

Having watched three duets with ranging subject matter but obviously clear choreographic similarity, I was unprepared, then, for the final piece on the program, Men’s Stories. This piece, which debuted in 2000, features nine men, dressed as one might imagine a coven of early 19th-century vampires would be: velvet blazers with tails, high-waisted black pants, cuffed, long-sleeved black shirts with a slight sheen. Scott Marshall’s soundscore – never before has the term “audio collage” been more fitting – interspersed bits of classical music with space music, ominous droning, white noise, even robotic sound effects. It was incredibly jarring, though not necessarily unpleasant.

Mr Lubovitch’s dancers are peerless executioners of his technique, a smooth melding of ballet and classic modern. They alternated between sections of pure movement and pantomime-esque fights and moments of forced bravado. At times, the other men appeared annoyed with soloists who fought for center stage (here, Clifton Brown and Jonathan E. Alsberry excel: The former can wring every last drop of the music into a thrilling balance, and the latter a formidable example of how understatement can be exciting); at other moments, the men would engage in a carefully choreographed (and a bit tongue-in-cheek) fight scene.

I found myself both alert and mesmerized. The piece’s ending only mystified me further. After all the dancers have collapsed in poses of respite, Mr Alsberry enters with a three-foot puppet dressed exactly the same as the dancers. Mr Alsberry then manipulates the puppet’s arms and legs to approach each of the dancers and interact with them in similar ways – wiping away this one’s sweat from his brow, shaking this one's hand, waving at that one. And then the piece is finished. I know not what Mr Lubovitch is attempting to say here – maybe something about the difficulty of being a man, forced to spew braggadocio in order to gain respect – but I am in awe of his dancers and his ability to craft a complicated and moving whole.