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Limon Dance Company

Looking Back and Moving Forward

by Cecly Placenti

November 22, 2006 -- Joyce Theatre, New York City

Every once in awhile it is important to look back, to check in with the sources in order to better understand how we got where we are today. This goes for everything in art: movies, music, visual art, theatre, and dance. From the classical ballet of Marius Petipa, to the post-modernism of Yvonne Rainer, to the contemporary modern of Sean Curran, there is drawn a line connecting the art as one movement either directly influencing the other or acting as an opposition to create something new. The medley of styles and languages called ‘modern dance’ calls out for some sort of explanation or order, a creation story to better understand the amazing progress dance has made over the last quarter of a century on its way to becoming the vibrant, important, powerful art form it is today.

The Limon Company at the Joyce Theatre offered a pleasing taste of the some of these forerunners. On November 22 the company presented their Classics and Commissions program, performing pieces that spanned fifty-eight years. The company’s commitment to producing and presenting programs that balance classic works of American modern dance with commissions from contemporary choreographers has yielded a repertory of unparalleled breadth. In its fifty-seventh year, the Limon Dance Company has mastered the style of its founder: expansive, nuanced movement, dramatic expression, and technical mastery. They should also be applauded for pioneering the idea that a company can in fact survive the death of its founder, and for setting an example of how to do so.

First on the program was Limon’s “Dances for Isadora,” a homage to the Mother of Modern Dance, Isadora Duncan. The five sections of the dance evoked five different aspects and stages in Duncan’s life. Kristen Foote, dancing the opening section ‘Primavera,’ was a long, tall delight. Her dark skin pleasantly off-set by an apple green silk tunic, she was the perfect picture of freedom and joy. The technique of Isadora Duncan was one of exuberance and flight- sternum lifted to the sky, arms scooping and seeming to hug heaven. Foote danced with praise, celebration, and passion. Every time she took the stage you could feel and see her love of the art, her happiness at being part of it. Ryoko Kudo in ‘Maenad’ was fiercely dramatic. Her staccato movements were full of animal-like attack and focus. In the final section, ‘Scarf Dance,’ Artistic Director Carla Maxwell seemed to be coming to terms with ghosts, reliving a past, and embracing death. A tremendously accomplished dancer having over forty years experience with the style and works of Jose Limon, Maxwell is the most sensitive of all the nuanced performers in the company. Her face, fingertips, and shoulder blades as equally expressive as her arms and legs and all working as a whole to tell a story.

Throughout the evening, one was struck by the musicality of the dancing, the lively alertness and buoyancy of the performers. In Doris Humphrey’s “Day on Earth,” each step, gesture, and rhythmic shift is performed with clarity and resonance. Humphrey distills the cycle of life into a dance for four people: a man laboring to plow and harvest the soil; a playful young girl who charms him; the woman he takes as his partner; and the little girl she bears. With her highly evocative choreography, Humphrey conveys universal themes that people all over the world can understand and relate to. She formulated a language, spoken magnificently by dancers Foote, Elian De Soto, and Roxane D’Orleans Juste, which showed us how the giddy young woman was not a suitable partner for the man. The woman he chooses as his wife matches him in strength, and the child is both helper and joy. Morgan Cragnotti as the child is a springy little cricket of a dancer who performs with the honesty and unaffectedness only a child can embody.

Lar Lubovitch’s “Recordare” is a humorous riff on the Mexican Day of the Dead celebration. The cast of characters included widows, brides and grooms, spirits, dead people, and the Grim Reaper himself. A colorful danse macabre, “Recordare” seemed to poke fun at the Mexican traditions of welcoming home the spirits of the deceased. It was a silly and amusing number, kitschy and spoofy. The set and costumes were beautiful and elaborate with the feel of folk entertainment.

Although Jose Limon died in 1971, he is one of the few old-school modern dance choreographers whose work is still relevant and thoroughly enjoyable. His full, rounded shapes have weight and value, as do the universal, human themes in his work. His company, thirty-five years after his death, still excels at the movement and, more importantly, the meaning inherent in it.

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