The Limon Dance Company
by Elizabeth McPherson
June 12, 2011 -- Gerald W. Lynch Theatre, John Jay College, New York, NY
The Limón Dance Company has existed without the leadership of José Limón for 39 years. Limón’s work has always been the main staple repertory for the company. Without him choreographing over the past four decades, Carla Maxwell, as director, has deftly guided the company through changing times. It is a tricky navigation. The Limón works were created in another time and place – the world has changed so much since then, and yet Limón addressed universal themes that should transcend time. For the most part, I think they do, especially for anyone interested in history. Art reflects the times in which it is created, so by looking at art from other eras, we see a response to the culture of that time. And in watching such works we may understand other time periods as well as our own with renewed insight.
To add to the Limón repertory, Maxwell has continually sought out other existing choreography as well as choreographers to make new work on the company. This performance opened with Cathedral Engloutie (1975) choreographed by Jiri Kylián to the music of Claude Debussy and ocean sounds. The title of the dance and music refers to an ancient legend of Brittany in which a cathedral disappears under the sea, then reappears to the “chosen” at sunset. The performance was striking in the beauty of the fluid movement phrases and the close partnering work. There was a certain predictability to the duets – after the first two, I had a clear idea what would come next, but it was interesting to see the contrast of women partnering women, men partnering men, and men and women partnering each other. The dancers moved with ease although there was occasionally a feel of wearing the glove of someone else. This was perhaps related to working in a different style from what they are accustomed. My favorite moment in the dance was when the two men had one of the women lifted straight above their heads and then began a slow revolution. One of the men then let go and circled under the woman in the opposite direction, leaving the other man as her only support. It reminded me of a Maypole dance, but with no ribbons or a pole, just moving bodies. Although the theme seemed at times to be elusive, in the end the dancers were clearly seeing the cathedral in the distance in front of them.
The following dance was The Moor’s Pavane (1949). The roles in this piece have large shadows looming over them of the original cast: José Limón, Lucas Hoving, Betty Jones, and Pauline Koner, as well as subsequent casts through the decades since it was created. If one has ever seen the dance before, shadows of those dancers are impossible to completely ignore. Yet this current cast certainly carries the dance in all its intensity and dramatic unspoken narrative. Kristen Foote particularly stood out today in the role of “His Friend’s Wife” – she made the part so much her own, her character speaking to the audience of deep and relentless remorse.
Missa Brevis (1958) was the highlight of the afternoon’s performance, in part because of the large number of dancers filling the stage. Added to the regular Limón Dance Company members were fourteen dancers from throughout Mexico as part of an on-going community based project called The Missa Brevis Project. Limón’s choreography for moving the dancers around the stage is masterful. They weave and circle with use of canon and unison to convey a strong sense of community – a community rebuilding after devastation and rejoicing in that rebuilding. This dance had particular current relevance and poignance as we approach the 10th anniversary of 9-11.
David LaMarche was the pianist for Cathedral Englantine and he conducted the sextet for The Moor’s Pavane. The live music for these dances added much to the overall experience.
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