BWW Reviews: Jose Limon Dance Company Still Inspires at Baruch Performing Arts After 67 Years
Back to the Article
by Emily Vetsch
In 2008, the Jose Limon Dance Foundation was awarded our country's highest honor for artistic excellence, the National Medal of Arts. Rightly so, for this historic company is world renowned for adding bricks and mortar to the foundation of American modern dance. Under the guidance of his mentor, Doris Humphrey, Limon founded the Jose Limon Dance Company in 1946, refining his vision of theatrical modern dance for a post World War II audience that had lived through the great depression and witnessed Europe's devastation. Long after Limon's death, with the pioneering idea that a company can continue without its founder, artistic director Carla Maxwell has safe guarded and preserved his works, giving us the opportunity to see and appreciate them in 2013. I'm glad to report that 67 years later the company is still entertaining, inspiring and respected by a wide range of audiences.
Opening the evening was Mazurkas, receiving its first performance in 20 years. The dance, Limon's tribute to the heroic spirit of Poland's people after visiting the country in 1957, was first presented on August 15, 1958, at the Connecticut American Dance Festival. In the upstage corner of the stage, live pianist Vanessa Perez gracefully accompanied the dancers-who would often turn and bow to her before or after she played the piano--with a series of Opus' by Frederic Chopin. Although the movement vocabulary is classic (coming from ballet) and shape oriented, the dancers' actual breath initiates the suspension and release of their bodies, literally circulating chi and flow throughout their highly controlled movements. This breath, along with an aliveness of expression on the dancers' faces, makes Limon's mid twentieth century choreography relevant and gives a sense of timelessness to the work. Without use of sets and props, Mazurkas has a way of weaving in and out of two places: one social, described in court dance formations and style; the other more private, involving solos and duets. We witness these solos and duets as if we were flies on the wall, seen almost through a window and reminding us of personal journeys, either arduous or joyful. I noted and appreciated the simplicity and beauty of the women's cream colored dresses and the men's black pants and white shirts, all of which contributed to the sense of timelessness which this dance so beautifully implies.
At the beginning of the program I was notified that The Moor's Pavane, Limon's 1949 masterpeiece was recently restaged and performed by four different companies around the world in two months! Inspired by Shakespeare's Othello, this dance is highly dramatic; the use of exaggerated postures effectively communicates the emotional life of the four characters. Limon uses the Pavane and other dances of the high Renaissance to tell this legend and tragedy of "Everyman." It is a wonderful fun piece to sink your teeth into as a viewer because the dancers' acting skills are put to the test. Even if you are unfamiliar with the plot of Othello, you know you are witnessing a tragedy. A slice of dance history with its period costumes, eye candy and gender specific movement, this piece isn't to be missed by any fan of American modern dance.
The gender specific choreography in both Limon pieces reflects the choreographer's interest in earlier time periods. The women often dance lightly, softly and curvaceously while the men dance with intensity, line and virtuosity. These qualities were juxtaposed against the last piece on the bill, Come With Me, with choreography by Rodrigo Pederneiras and music by Paquito D'Rivera, which premiered in 2012. This dance, reminiscent of Irish step dancing and performed by men and women, was very lively and fast, with exciting footwork and minimal arm gestures. The floor patterns drawn by the dancers were more obvious as they drew diagonals, boxes and rectangles, making me appreciate Limon's more all encompassing use of space. In fairness this may have been an intentional choice, for everything about this piece was stylistically less organic and almost inhuman. While the music was dynamic, Latin and sexual, it appeared disconnected from emotion and sensuousness, quite different from what this type of music normally evokes. None the less the older women in front of me where quite horrified by the same sex partnering even though it wasn't at all suggestive. The company looked like they were enjoying the challenging movement, and it was exciting to see the seasoned Limon dancers speaking in another language.
Jose Limon Dance Foundation presented the Limon Dance Company at the Baruch Performing Arts Center on January 15th, 2013.
Photo credit: "Come With Me" Rosalie O'Connor