On Stage: Back to Back

They say you can’t go back, although dancers easily do that in both class and choreography. But Jason McDole also maintains a number of umbilical cords in his life. He may appear to go back, but actually he is moving forward.

We met a few years ago when the Aliquippa native and Pittsburgh-trained dancer returned to the area to teach at Point Park University. We talked about a lot of things for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette — his early hearing loss, his dance growth here, the matriculation to Juilliard where he met life-long friend Robert Battle, his remarkable career with major companies under choreographers like Twyla Tharp, David Parsons and most recently, Lar Lubovitch.

Dance subsequently called him back to a spot in the seamless symphony of movement as that same group, the Lar Lubovitch Dance Company, is finally getting an encore performance with the Pittsburgh Dance Council at the Byham Theater this weekend.

A couple of years ago, Jason took some time off to nurse his ailing dog, Colby, when Lar called. He said there was a position open in the company, that he wanted “someone who knows my work and I know you would be such a good fit.”

Jason recognized it as “a unique opportunity, very flattering.” With support from family and friends, he left Aliquippa, where he was staying with his uncle, to meet the company in Chicago. (Colby soon passed away.)

It was a good fit. Jason had friends with the company and would be working with Lar, “who I adore. I respect him as a choreographer; I respect him as a person. He’s such a gentleman and very focused and dedicated to his work and his craft and his dancers — just the utmost quality, always time for details. Everything’s pristine and really clean and clear.”

But the best thing about this current dance career extension is that it’s just “more fun. From here on out, everything is cake and ice cream.” Jason also relishes the challenges, both physically and creatively, of tapping some of Lar’s past works and watching Lar create new work on him.

So this time around Jason is taking time, simply to enjoy. He has an apartment in Spanish Harlem, which he shares with Josie, a Hungarian Viszla or pointer dog. (“One day I’ll have many Viszlas around me.”) Before he didn’t have the time to make a home — it was just a place to sleep. Now he puts “Jason” touches on the apartment.

He also keeps in touch with Robert Battle, who went on to take over the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater. “I knew him before he was making dances,” says Jason. “Of course, he’s much busier now. He’s doing well. He’s very challenged, right where he should be.”

And Jason seems to swim in Lar’s vision, beginning with the blend of the program itself.

“You feel it as a performer — it’s really nice to dance a program where you can cohesively move from work to work in an evening,” Jason explains. “He also thinks about the audience and musicality and the pacing, but certainly he’s thinking about his dancers. So I appreciate that.”

The Pittsburgh program will begin with North Star, one of Jason’s favorites and an early Lubovitch piece (1978) that separated the choreographer from the rest because he was first to use minimalist music. Jason admits that “I’m driven by it.”

Photo: Todd Rosenberg

But the rest of program will feature three more recent works as Lar continues to maintain his artistic edge, including Little Rhapsodies, a trio set to Schumann, and Crisis Variations, a quintet set to a score inspired by Liszt. Jason remarks that Crisis is a “wonderful departure. He really took a risk…challenged himself to step outside of his own box.”

The evening will conclude with Legend of Ten, a “beautiful, very layered, highly textured” work set to a Brahms quintet. Oddly enough, Lar created it with the idea of a geographical map and its legends. As it turned out, about half of the piece was created on the road, creating its own geographical outline in many cities while the company was on tour.

And as for Lar’s movement itself, it’s “so organic — I know it’s a cliched word — in a sense that the weight shift from one foot to the other is like butter. So you really are in constant balance. But you’re still able to spiral and twist and leap and create multi-dimensional, circle-like motion. That’s what makes his movement so beautiful in terms of movement flow.”

It has been a prolific time for the 70-year old choreographer, who keeps doing it “because he wants to and he chooses to and he needs to.” And Jason? The story is much the same. “I think I’ll always be a dancer, no matter what,” he says. “I’ll always have dance somewhere in my life. While I’m dancing, I’m eating it up.”

Yeah, we all like cake and ice cream.

For the Byham Theater performance details, see Listings.

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