Limón Dance Company of San Jose

Olympic Arts Festival Program: In Winter, Etude, Crossroads, Psalm

Mexican Heritage Plaza Centro Cultural de San Jose

April 20, 2002
By Toba Singer

The Olympic Arts Festival Program presented by the Limón Dance Company of San Jose made for a nice fit for a medium-sized company. The works represented a broad spectrum in modern choreography, featuring the work, Psalm, by Limón, and a relatively recent work, Crossroads, by veteran modern dance choreographer, Donald McKayle.

In Winter, choreographed by Billy Seigenfeld, was set to a medley of jazz music, evocative of Manhattan in the fifties. With the rise in popularity of jazz vocalists such as Harry Connick in the '90s, the mood of that 1950s style has been revived. It is that autumn-in-New York transition into the early days of winter that we see in the swirling arms that describe a seasonal pitch of motion and energy that is so much present in East Coast cosmopolitan sense memory. The upper body accents in the use of extended arms and off-balance shoulder movements deliver the bustle that gets going at that time of year. As the dancers speed walk or hit a fall-and-recover kind of strut, they seem to deconstruct the gestures in jazz that abundant use has turned into cliché. Instead of the traditional "accent down" (or up) choreography, the dancers use their hands to throw outward, opening up the stage. The dancers almost become the musical instruments accompanying them; their movements mimic jazz musicians with their instruments in those vulnerable poses revealing how a surge of libido lights up a fiery riff. The costumes, blazers in various shades of brown, with street wear sheath or a-a-line skirts in blurry prints for the women in the first segment, detract from making this happen as completely as it could. The blazers restrict movement, and the muddy designs, intended perhaps to be anti-theatrical and anti-chic, end up hiding the dancersâ otherwise clean lines.

The second segment opens with a piano intro and a trumpet solo, as the dancers creep surreptitiously onto the stage, draped in black capes, which they hold closed for the duration. The music is languid while a soloist on all fours seems to suck up the floor and pull the energy toward it, stretching head and legs upward in a Sea Shadow kind of expiatory ritual. The corps of dancers in their capes respond reactively to the solo, as winter attends the death agony of the more forgiving seasons preceding it. The corps capes predictably come off at the close of the piece as the heat exchange from the solo succeeds in removing the chill from the winter air.

Etude is a solo choreographed by Carla Maxwell, and danced by Jonathan Riedel to music by Schubert with lyrics in German. Sorry not to know what "Spinnrade" in the music's title means, but I suspect it is linked to the fluid spirals danced so evenly by Mr. Riedel. The otherwise beguiling choreography did not explore the musical intervals in this piece as fully as I would have liked, and therefore made it seem that Mr. Riedel was slightly off the music, even though he was not. That aside, the piece was haunting and conveyed a classical and layered, but sculpted sensibility.

Crossroads to music by James Newton composed for the piece, was my companion's favorite of the program. Having taken class with Mr. McKayle way back in the early sixties at New Dance Group in New York, and having felt embarrassingly grateful whenever I did, I found myself oddly grateful once again. This time, instead of embarrassment, I felt sheer delight, as if having been invited along on location. Other critics have guessed that the pea-green-cum-chartreuse and cerise costumes indicate a color-war theme. I am not sure that all of the strife onstage occurred along color lines. What I am sure of is that the cockatiel-inspired costumes lifted the color of the choreography up and out, creating a kind of fourth dimension. Inside this piece is every manner of struggle and dialectic that is present in nature, where the axes cross, as they are lit to do onstage. Elements consolidate, fissure, become one again, in a dazzling continuum of redefinition. Whether the dancers mirror each other in a wide box step where heads are off center, or execute a fully-articulated pas de deux on the floor, every gesture explores a new configuration. We find that motion in the rain forest follows the meandering of the river, or the implied samba tempo of its natural inhabitants. Each dancer is his or her own Terpsichorean Swiss Army knife, with all the needed implements contained in a compact, but moving treasure trove. Robert Regala, and all the couples, give an extra push here --right over the top.

Psalm, with its rapturous choreography by Limón, opens the company's lens to its fullest exposure. Piano, drum, piano, drum, curtain, is the sequence set for the pairs of dancers who break into searching, low triplets as canticle-style music, newly-composed by Jon Magnussen, begins. (Though the program notes suggest that the piece was inspired by "ancient Jewish tradition," the lyrics are in Latin.) An ensemble of dancers in slate-colored costumes, accented in blue and red, fill every diagonal. They move in centripetal off-balance chasses with arms raised to create a swirl of motion at the center of the stage. Fulcrum-like turns, with arms extended, break out as the music crescendos and diminuendos around the chant of "Alleluia." Mr. Regala appears, as gifted as his name implies, and crosses in front of the ensemble in large, loose lunges, reminiscent of Mary Hinkson. His back is so flexible and expressive that the simplest stretch is like a splayed tapestry. The floor seems to roll under him, as he pairs ecstasy with grief. The corps appears to wash away tears with low, "water-wheel" off-balance strides across the stage. Technically, this piece seems to challenge and show the dancers' fatigue more than the others. It looks under-rehearsed and some of the women dancers have difficulty balancing or holding positions more here than in the other pieces. Nonetheless, its power as a work of evangelical completeness, reveals that Mr. Limón's dance architecture remains a cornerstone of the American tradition.


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Edited by Mary Ellen.

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