Capture/Release included “As Sleep Befell,” choreographed by Lar Lubovitch to music by Paola Prestini and performed by his company at Pace University.
In dance it’s usually the choreographer who hires the composer or requests permission to use a piece of music. But the composer Paola Prestini, with her company, VisionIntoArt, is also a producer. And for “Capture/Release,” a celebration of Lar Lubovitch, she commissioned Mr. Lubovitch and Katarzyna Skarpetowska, a member of his company, to make dances to her music.
The free concert on Tuesday — with Pace University as co-producer at its Michael Schimmel Center for the Arts, as part of the River to River festival — was altogether unusual. Three dances, all to live music, alternated with purely musical selections. Much of the music was fresh and imaginative. The choreography — danced by Mr. Lubovitch’s troupe, in its 45th year — was less so.
Of the music pieces, Andy Akiho’s “LIgNEouS 1,” for string quartet and marimba, was dramatic in composition, with ostinato patterns repeatedly swelling and spilling over, but it was most distinctive in its sonorities. Playing the marimba with headless mallets, Ian Rosenbaum made glissandi sound like a wooden roller coaster, and the coordinated accents of struck wood and plucked strings were piercing.
“Capture/Release,” a premiere by Daniel Wohl for strings, percussion and electronic keyboard, suggested the expanding and then overlapping waves after a pebble is dropped into a circular pool. Here and throughout the evening the musicians — members of the ensemble Le Train Bleu — were excellent, conducted with precise authority by Ransom Wilson.
“Listen, Quiet,” Ms. Skarpetowska’s choreographic premiere to Ms. Prestini’s score for cello, percussion and recorded (yet incomprehensible) conversations, was dramatically incoherent. The dancer Reed Luplau tugged and prodded the reluctant Nicole Correa. Something intense was going on between them, but what? S. Katy Tucker’s video of a woman underwater and, later, of words on the screen didn’t clarify, nor did the choreographer’s plunking at a typewriter as the dancers sat through the last part of the score. The vague choreography made the live music, with its precious tapping of hanging objects, seem more affected. (The abstract video for the other pieces was complementary without being distracting.)
Mr. Lubovitch’s 2011 choreography for Yevgeniy Sharlat’s “Crisis Variations” was similarly diminishing. The continual, anguished collapsing seemed cartoony against the score’s antic qualities, its riffs on Franz Liszt with saxophone and harpsichord. Only in the last second, when Ms. Skarpetowska was swallowed into the group, was the sense of emergency convincing.
Mr. Lubovitch’s new “As Sleep Befell” made for a better match with Ms. Prestini’s music. At the center of a semicircle of string, wind and percussion players stood the vocalist Helga Davis, a kind of murmuring angel. Six shirtless male dancers were arrayed out in front of her on the ground, tossing and turning handsomely to Ms. Prestini’s atmospherics, as if in a shared dream. Though there was an excess of head-rolling, the daisy-chain patterns of the men and their tribal processions with linked arms were at least visually arresting. Short of a powerful vision, the dance was something pretty to watch as you listened.