Les Watanabe on Alvin Ailey, Lar Lubovitch, Donald McKayle and his life in dance

Les Watanabe in “Reflections in D” choreographed by Alvin Ailey performing it for the Joyce Trisler’s Danscompany. Photo courtesy of Les Watanabe. Photographer unknown.

Les Watanabe interviw with Jamuna Chiarini

Donald McKayle
"When I was at UC Irvine beginning my dance career, a friend of mine said that if I ever had the opportunity, that I should audition for Donald McKayle as she knew we would ‘hit it off.’ Well, a year or so later, I heard that Donald McKayle had relocated to Los Angeles from New York and that he was auditioning for his dance company. Of course, I auditioned…and my friend was right: we did hit it off immediately. So I transferred to Cal Arts, where Donald was teaching.
I began working with his company in the evening, first learning all of his famous works such as Rainbow ‘Round My Shoulder, District Storyville and Nocturne. The experience was both fantastic, all consuming and so very demanding.

Rainbow Round My Shoulder, one of Donald’s signature works, is considered one of the most demanding works in modern dance. If done the way it should be done—with passion and commitment— one is forever changed, both as a dancer and as a person. I underwent this transformation and am eternally grateful to Donald McKayle. I consider him the most influential person in my life. I worked on and off with him for 20 years. [I] assisted him on two Broadway shows, worked with him [on choreography] in Europe, and finally I was invited by him, to be an Artist In Residence at UC Irvine."

Lar Lubovitch:
"During Alvin Ailey’s CBS rehearsals, Lar Lubovitch was teaching in the next studio. I ran into him at the drinking fountain. While living in L.A., I had read articles about him in Dance Magazine. So while he was stooped over drinking, I exclaimed, “Lar Lubovitch! I’ve read all about you!”

At that point he stood up facing me wiping his mouth and looking incredulous like, “Who is this guy?” I then asked, “Do you ever have auditions? I would love to dance with you.”

'Are you dancing now?' he asked.

'Yes, with Alvin Ailey next door, but it is only for five weeks.'

'Where do you take class?' Lar asked. 'At Maggie Black’s' I answered. 'Good. Let’s meet at her first class. Then you can rush back to rehearsal. See you next week'

So the following week we took class together. I was in the first group; Lar the second group so that he could watch me. After the Adage, Pirouettes and small jumps, he then asked “Can you start tomorrow at 7 pm downtown?”

A lightning bolt had struck!! Wow! Dance with Lar Lubovitch?! How fantastic!

So the next day after Alvin’s rehearsal was done at 5, I grabbed a New York pizza and caught the subway downtown to his studio. I did this for the seven months I was dancing with Alvin’s secondcompany until finally Lar’s company was set to go to Europe. I left Alvin’s at this time to dance with Lar. During the tour I danced all of Lar’s roles as his knees were getting bad and he wanted to dance less."