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Limón Legacy Lives

by Marian Horosko
December 7, 2008
The Joyce Theater
175 Eighth Avenue (at the corner of 19th Street)
New York, NY 10011
212-242-0800

Featured Dance Company:

The Limón Dance Company
The José Limón Dance Foundation (office)
307 W. 38th Street, Suite 1105
New York, NY 10018
(212) 777-3353
www.limon.org

The Limón Dance Company, currently celebrating its 60 years, remains one of the great repertory ensembles of modern dance. José Limón (1908-1972) was a Mexican-American dancer, teacher and choreographer. His tall, strong, chiseled face and head, along with his commanding technique and innate majesty were unforgettable for those who saw him perform. After his death, the company continued, and still continues now under the direction of its Artistic Director, Carla Maxwell, who had joined the Limón group in 1965, and became its artistic director in 1978. Maxwell remains a riveting dancer, capable of strong characterization and powerful projection and has miraculously kept the standards of the technique and the integrity of the reconstructions.

Limón wanted to be a painter, moved to California in 1915, but when he saw his first dance performance in New York in 1928, he began his study of dance with two pillars of early modern dance, Doris Humphrey (1895-1958) and Charles Weidman (1901-1975) and performed their works. By 1946, he was ready to form his own company with Humphrey as artistic director. It was a company of strong contrasts: Humphrey, with her lyricism, and Limón with his strong sense of drama and social insights.

According to Daniel Lewis, a former member of the Limón company, and now Dean of Dance at the New World School of the Arts, and author of the "Illustrated Technique of José Limón" (currently a Princeton Book reprint), "He was a caring, giving, noble man, proud of his heritage," that had taught him to be humble, and inspired to create a visual expression of his affirmation of faith. Lewis cited Limón's "Emperor Jones," "The Traitor," and "Missa Brevis," as works that stand out in his memory. "José Limón, An Unfinished Memoir" published by Wesleyan University Press is also available. His legacy includes more than 97 works for various kinds of productions.

The current company restaged a heroic number of works for their season: Humphrey's "Day on Earth" and "Lament for Ignacio Sanchez Mejias," and Limón's "A Choreographic Offering," "Dances for Isadora" and his masterwork, "The Moor's Pavane." In keeping with presenting new works, the group performed Lar Lubovitch's, "Recordare." In the past, the company has commissioned works by Suzanne Linke, Jirí Kyliàn, Jonathan Riedel, Adam Hougland and others.

"Lament" Humphrey's 1946 work, was revived by former company member Sarah Stackhouse. Its theme, the drama of the bull-fighter's death was intended to signify the struggle of all men of courage who meet a tragic end. The bull-fighter, Ignacio, was danced by Francisco Ruvalcaba (San Diego), Kristen Foote (Toronto) was the Guardian of Destiny, and a Witness and Mourner was Ryoko Kudo (Japan/New York). The music prepared by Kenneth Hamrick and the costumes, restored after the original designs, by Marion Williams, all came together for a powerful and moving performance that required the dancers to speak and dance the story.

Limón's "Dances for Isadora" (1971), presented in five solo evocations of Duncan's life, was respectful and dramatic in representing her rise to fame, defiance of the establishment, personal tragedies and descent into self abuse, all danced to Études and Préludes by Chopin. Performed by the women in the company, Roxanne D'Orléans Juste in her commanding manner depicted Isadora, the patriot. Especially tragic was Isadora in her pitiful end performed by Carla Maxwell.

"Day on Earth" (1947) by Humphrey looked dated, since Humphrey handled social comments more lightly than Limón. There were, however, charming mini appearances of two young dancers from the Limón school on separate nights: Morgana Cragnotti and Lina Dahbour each as the "Child," in the work's life-goes-on theme. Costumes were reconstructed by Charles Schoonmaker.

But two masterworks by Limón still ascend over their place in time: "A Choreographic Offering (1964)," a tribute to Humphrey and his signature work, "The Moor's Pavane, (1949)" based on Shakespeare's play. It is a gripping work that has been replicated in major companies including the Paris Opera Ballet, Royal Danish Ballet and American Ballet Theatre. The new work, "Recordare," by Lubovitch was a trivial take on the Mexican holiday, "Day of the Dead." It bordered on being an insult to Mexican culture.

Augmented by dancers from the communities in which the company toured in 2005/06, and continuing into 2007, master teachers from the Limón school select and teach a 3-week "Missa Brevis Project" in order to increase the cast of 13 company dancers to 22, which the Limón work requires. This poignant masterwork (1958), to the music of Zoltan Kodály requires a full choir and organ, as well, and the Project is a unique way to introduce the technique and the work to young dancers. The Project has been successfully implemented in college-level schools throughout the country.

For information on summer programs and the Project, contact the company on line at Limon.org.
'Moor's Pavane' with Carla Maxwell

"Moor's Pavane" with Carla Maxwell

Photo © & courtesy of Unknown


José Limón

José Limón

Photo © & courtesy of Unknown

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