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Limón Dance Company

'Evensong,' 'Chaconne,' 'Angelitos Negros,' 'Phantasy Quintet,' 'Psalm'

No Finer Example

Pictured:  'Phantasy Quintet'
Photo:  Beatriz Schiller

by Cecly Placenti

September 23, 2004 -- Joyce Theatre, New York City

Dance is about emotions, ideas, and the expression of the human condition. Watching the Limón Company at the Joyce Theatre, there was no finer example of the success of that which makes modern dance great. Fifty-eight years after its inception, the Limón Company continues to be a powerful force in the dance community, surviving changing movement fashions and economies. It is the company’s emphasis on dramatic expression, nuanced and expansive movement, and the human soul that makes this possible. The Limón Company’s commitment to producing and presenting programs that balance the classics of its founders with commissions from contemporary choreographers has yielded a repertory of fantastic breadth and is a sure recipe for continued success.

The program offered three classic Limón masterpieces, one company premiere, and two pieces by contemporary masters. The evening opened with “Evensong” by Jiri Kylian to music by Antonin Dvorak. The formal spatial architecture of the piece, the flowing white dresses, and the use of pedestrian movements rather than dance technique to show emotion, combined to give the piece a stunning simplicity evoking an evening mass. The Limón technique is based on the principle of breath, on its fall and recovery, and on the weight of the body in motion. Watching the dancers in this opening piece, I could feel the breath in their movements; feel the weight of it in my own body.

The second piece, Limón’s “Chaconne” choreographed in 1942 to music by J.S. Bach, featured Jonathan Riedel and violinist Robin Zeh. Riedel was musically masterful, able to suspend and fulfill each and every beseeching note and space between notes. His body was a crisp partner to the music, weighted yet uplifted and airy, emotional and dramatically punctuated, like the instrument he danced to. The Chaconne as a dance form originated in what is now Mexico as a robust, raucous dance. Bach employed the strict musical form but enriched it with powerful emotional implications. Limón, in his turn, attempted to capture both the formal austerity and profound feeling of the music. With Riedel costumed in black against a back light of blue, and the clean crisp steps of the dance, I think the piece achieved its success. During one sustained pitch arabesque turn, Riedel held that intense position as long as Zeh held the note, and the lack of apparent separation between music and man was an intensely powerful moment that tugged at the heart of the audience. The beauty of Limón’s work manifested in this company’s superb technicians, is that the audience sees no external effort. It is like we see the body’s internal workings only, its breath and release.

Roxane D’Orleans “Juste” brought her chilling intensity and stunning artistry to the company premiere of Donald McKayle’s “Angelitos Negros.” It is a deeply passionate solo to music by Manuel Alvarez Maciste whose lyrics ask ”Painter, why are there no black angels in the Sistine Chapel? Won’t they go to heaven too?” Juste offered a mixture of power in her precise staccato movements, restraint in her fluidity then sudden syncopation, and passion in her sharp lines and soft recovery. She was a woman who will be heard, who will cry above her circumstances no matter what.

Former company member Adam Houghland beautifully illustrated the way in which the Humphrey/Limón technique can be used today in “Phantasy Quintet.” Once again the dancers were the music, every part of their supple bodies seamlessly accentuated and made visible the musical notes of Ralph Vaughn Williams. Jose Limón once talked about the body being like an orchestra and the counter-energies of the body becoming an organic whole. In this piece, the movement felt endless, like a conversation. The sentences were never run-on, but precisely punctuated and fluid. It was organic and exuberant, a celebration of moving the body in space. It was a lovely new take on Limón’s timeless vision.

Pictured: 'Psalm'
Photo: Beatriz Schiller

Ending this stellar evening was Limón’s classic “Psalm.” According to ancient Jewish tradition, all the sorrows of the world rest within thirty-six Just Men, called the Lamed-Vov. These men are ordinary mortals who are often unaware of their station. It is believed that if even one of them were missing, the suffering of the world would poison the souls of all, and mankind would perish. Through abstract movement we focus on the realization of one Just Man, danced by Robert Regala. We see that one individuals holding of grief is crucial to everyone’s preservation. Dancing with and against a superbly unified ensemble, a stunning Regala sometimes molded seamlessly with the group, encircled by a protective chorus of dancers, and other times was singled out in sharply contrasted pain. The illustration of the theme in this piece came in the form of repetition, uniformity, and contrast to that uniformity. The ensemble moved with breathtaking exactitude -- even the leg height of their extensions were the same. The use of the stage space and the overall sense of dance architecture was a stunning achievement.

What is most striking about this company is that although one senses the authoritative technique of the dancers, the emphasis is always on the soul. It is lyrical, haunting, passionately dramatic, and deeply human. The company offers the grace of ballet and the emotion and dramatic drive of narrative, weaving in the daring of modern dance. What goes up must come down, what contracts must release, what suspends must also ground, and this company exemplifies these physical concepts superbly and uses them to enlighten a viewpoint and evoke emotion. The Limón Company is a shining example of the best that modern dance is and should always be.


Edited by Jeff.

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