Bradley Shelver on Working with Lar Lubovitch

October 26, 2008

Collaborating with a choreographer on a new work can be one of the most exciting and fulfilling times in a dancer’s career. I spent almost five weeks in the studio with Lar Lubovitch, who was commissioned by The Limón Company to create a new piece for our 2006-2007 touring season. The working title for the piece is Recordare, which means “remember” in Spanish. It’s inspired by the Mexican El Día de los Muertos, or The Day of the Dead, a holiday that celebrates the lives of those who have died. The work’s theatricality was challenging for the company, as we were asked to be as creative in our character development as we were in our technical and artistic interpretations. The piece is inspired by images on trinket boxes; I play a drunk Mexican cowboy, a villager and a groomsman.

I love observing the creative process of others. It’s interesting to experience Lubovitch at work, because I admire his understanding of music, partnering and staging, and how he brings out the best in his dancers. He has incredible musicality, and I found myself dreaming of the music and its haunting phrasing. The work premiered on October 29 in Boston and was then shown at the Kennedy Center in Washington, DC.

In the past few months, I’ve had many opportunities to push my creative boundaries. While working with Lubovitch, I was asked to guest with a new NYC-based company called The Francesca Harper Project. Harper, a former Frankfurt Ballet principal, is an exceptionally talented choreographer, singer, filmmaker and Broadway actress. My acting skills were again challenged when, for her gala performance, Harper asked me to develop a character, and then speak and define mannerisms.

Conveniently, the rehearsals for The Limón Company and the FH Project were both held at Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater’s studios. After 3 hours spent with Lubovitch, I would run to the studio next door on my lunch break to rehearse with Francesca, then run back to continue rehearsals with Lubovitch.

Also during this time, two organizations commissioned me to choreograph. The first gig was for the 2005 Elan Awards honoring Susan Stroman (held October 10 in NYC), and the second was for contemporary ballet company Cedar Lake 2. I accepted both jobs and used any free time I had to choreograph. It can be difficult to find inspiration when I’m mentally and physically exhausted, so it helped to have a wonderful pool of dancers to set my choreography on.

Most companies use the summer to create, rehearse and establish programs for upcoming seasons. As dancers, we’re forced to deconstruct ourselves as we construct something else. When faced with a new choreographic challenge, you have to strip away what you already know (or think you know) and be prepared to accept new ideas. I always keep an open mind and a ready body so that I can establish my technical foundation and then layer on the artistic elements carefully. I’ve heard many artistic directors say that it takes between six months and a year before dancers grasp a work. With every choreographer, I just hope that I can do his or her work justice.