What is a Lar Lubovitch dancer? That's the question that Utahns interested in modern dance will be able to answer by next Sunday, for the acclaimed modern troupe of 12 dancers will perform in Kingsbury Hall, on Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m.

Local dance buffs already know that the Lar Lubovitch Dance Company, now in its 20th anniversary season, has progressively developed into a brilliant, attention-getting troupe, whose annual season at New York City Center is enthusiastically received by major critics."In the past few years, Lubovitch has been like a gambler on a roll, and he has parlayed himself and his company into the top rank, perhaps the first to do so since Twyla Tharp," said Clive Barnes of the New York Post. The company also tours widely, having danced in almost every state in the Union and many countries of Europe and Asia.

To define the effect of the company, which dances almost entirely Lubovitch choreographies, commentators use such adjectives as "soaring," "gleaming," "sensuous," "beautiful," "vibrant," "polished," "joyous," "thrilling," and "high energy."

"Lubovich came to Utah and set a dance on us, `Session,' in 1975," said Linda C. Smith, artistic director of the Repertory Dance Theatre, which is co-sponsoring the Lubovitch appearance. "And I see them perform about every two years. These dancers are very skilled, they soar, theyflow, their elevations are terrific, their dance is lush and luxuriant, their movement is wonderfully rich, they are very musical. They combine a lot of (Jose) Limon style with clean, balletic technique.

"Lar is not post-modern, he's mainstream, but he has his own distinctive voice," Smith said. "He uses a wide variety of music, from electronic to classical, Eastern to Western, and his is exactly the sort of company that Salt Lakers will like - just old-fashioned gorgeous. When I knew he would be touring nearby on the WESTAF (Western Arts Foundation) roster, I hurried to see if we could help sponsor him here."

Since his company was named the dance company of 1986 by the New York Times and New York Post, Lubovitch has not rested on his laurels. Recent work has included choreographing for the New York City Ballet, doing a full-length ice skating version of "Sleeping Beauty" for Robin Cousins and Rosalynn Sumners, being the first dance company ever to dance at New York's Mostly Mozart Festival, and staging the Tony-winning Sondheim musical, "Into the Woods."

In a recent interview, Lubovitch made clear that he doesn't want to be considered obscure; rather he has every intention of being understood, and his upcoming itinerary shows the variety of the public that he addresses.

Besides Salt Lake appearances, the Lubovitch troupe will dance at Idaho State University in Pocatello Jan. 23-24, Utah State University in Logan Jan. 26, and Sun Valley Center, Hailey, Idaho, on Jan. 28. They then fly to the Hong Kong Arts Festival Feb. 3-8, and to Lyon, France, Feb. 14-19. The dancers will be at Indiana University in early March andwill spend March 20-April 3 in Japan.

In Utah, the company will dance three pieces, headlined by "Concerto Six Twenty-two" (1985), set to a Mozart Clarinet Concerto, and almost universally acclaimed for its inventiveness, power and musicality. Also programmed is "North Star," a 1978 work set to music of Philip Glass.

"`North Star' is probably the oldest of my works in current repertory, and it was for many years considered a sort of company signature piece," said Lubovitch in a telephone conversation from New York. "It's not actual dance steps, but shapes, and group involvement. `Concerto Six Twenty-two' is probably considered our current signature piece."

And what makes the difference, what has the development been in those 10 years?

"That's hard for me to say, because I just go from one piece to the next, and try to solve problems, move on to a higher plane," said Lubovitch.

While critics are finding more and more in Lubovitch, he eschews taking on any particular existent style. "My dance is not classical, but contemporary, I don't use the term `modern' because that connotes one or two more structured styles of dance.

"I am in dance because I do what I do, and I try to find what it is that I do, it's very important to define your own voice. Pressures try to gear you toward the fashionable, the popular, the acceptable. But it's impossible for me to cut my fashion to suit the taste of the times. I am not newfangled, and I am not old-fashioned. I do exactly what I do, and take my share of praise and criticism."

Most of Lubovitch's dancers have been with him for a long time, a natural development, he says, since dancers are like choreographers. "They are in search of their own voice, their natural way of moving, their choreographer, and when they find him they tend to stay," he said.

"I guess I may be more reminiscent of Limon than others, because what I do has as much to do with humanistic values as with movement style. You see a great deal of cold, intellectual dance that has no humanism, only design - I call it wallpaper dance.

"But there will always be a certain `bottom line dance,' as styles come and go. That `bottom line dance' has been developing for centuries, and it's dependent on music, and human values. One thing applies to all my work: my subject is dance in relationship to music, my desire is to make music visible. Every piece has a different subtext, but the real meaning of every piece is dance."

Completing the Salt Lake program (the same both Friday and Saturday nights) will be Gershwin's "Rhapsody in Blue," the work Lubovitch choreographed for the New York City Ballet's American Composers Festival last spring, now adapted to his own company.

On the personal side, Lar Lubovitch was born in Chicago and grew up thinking he would be a painter, though he always danced and made up dances with his friends. "I just didn't know that you called it choreography," he told Maralyn Lois Polak of the Philadelphia Inquirer.

"You ask me what kind of child I was? Very forceful, very directed. Very focused on the things I did, and very, very wildly unfocused on anything else that required my attention. . . . I was a bad student, because . . . I had certain obsessions, and those were really the only things that interested me, I did them all the time."

He began an art major at the University of Iowa, but the advent there of a professional dance troupe led to enlightenment. "I didn't know there could be movement like that," he said.

"After that I hardly painted at all. (I saw that dance was) movement art, and that I could aspire to be that kind of artist. And I was also a gymnast, so there were all these little corners that came together to make a whole room. Dance sort of united the two great interests and abilities I had, movement and art."

Lubovitch made a beeline for Juilliard School in New York, where he studied with Anthony Tudor, Jose Limon and the Martha Graham Company. He danced in numerous modern, ballet, jazz and ethnic companies before forming his own company in 1968, for which he has created more than 45 dances.

Tickets at $16 and $12 are available at Smith'sTix, Kingsbury Hall, Smokey's and Cosmic Aeroplane; for phone charges, call 1-800-888-TIXX. - Dorothy Stowe