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70th Anniversary Tour Program highlighted some of Jose Limón's best works

by Lewis J Whittington
March 15, 2016
Prince Theater
1412 Chestnut Street
Philadelphia, PA 19102
(215) 422-4580
The Limón Dance Company was in the midst of its 70th Anniversary National Tour when they returned to Philadelphia for the first time in a decade, March 10-13, as part of Randy Swartz’s (Dance Affiliates) inaugural NextMove series at the Prince Theater.

Carla Maxwell, a former Limón dancer and current artistic director introduced the three repertory works as representative of the range of artistry of the legendary choreographer Jose Limón, who influenced generations of dancers and choreographers.

The concert on March 11 opened with "Mazurkas" (1958) a piece Limón created after touring post-war Poland and witnessing a country recovering from the atrocities and ravages of WWII.

In it, Limon choreographed a series of dance "poems," as Maxwell termed them, that were set to piano preludes and mazurkas by Polish composer Frederick Chopin in tribute to the resilience of the Polish people and in celebration of Polish culture. The work included several couples dances, a jaunty mens’ trio of camaraderie, a womens’ roundelay and other understated vignettes, built from ethnographic dance.

The psychological impact of war was best expressed in an arresting solo danced with hypnotic reserve by Daniel Fetecua Soto and scored to Chopin’s haunting Mazurka Opus 17, No 4. It underlined how Limón admirably did not build any stagy virtuosi into these dances, aiming for something more substantive and resonant.

In the ensemble sections of "Mazurkas" however, the dancers could have looked sharper to make the piece more engaging to contemporary dance audiences - perhaps with more rigorous pacing in the crucial transitional steps for instance, or more focused characterization. Still, the intent of the piece remained powerful.

Next came, Limón’s bona fide modern masterpiece “The Moor’s Pavane” (1949). A dance adaptation of Shakespeare's Othello set to music by Henry Purcell, Limón devised a precision dance language of baroque manners and chamber dance clarity for the work that is so revered that it can run the risk of being too much under glass as can easily happen over time with hallowed dance works. That was not an issue for this performance of it as it was sumptuously danced and acted by Francisco Ruvalcaba as the Moor, Logan Francis Kruger as his wife accused of adultery, Ross Katen as the conniving friend, and Ryoko Kudo as the hapless conspirator. Shakespeare’s themes of betrayal and lust condensed through these characters, The opulent velvet Elizabethan costumes by Pauline Lawrence were unforgettable in motion.

Closing the concert was "The Winged” from 1966 which was another Limón masterwork that choreographically showcased the ensemble's strength, artistry and athleticism. The piece was conceived, as Carla Maxwell explained, as an hour long silent work, and you could see how daring Limon was and how dynamic an idea that might have been. But, Limon had reservations about both the length and the concept of the piece and it was subsequently shortened and music was added.

The current version has an original score by composer Jon Magnussen, that was added in 1995 and is a driving percussive and brass symphonia with earthy sound effects laced throughout. Limon’s flock of dancers was imbued with a dazzling mosaic of bird physicality taking flight and other avian configurations.

In "Duel," a section of the work, dancers Soto and Ruka Hatua-Saar were the grotesquely beautiful battling birds in a death match that had them over, under, sideways and down until they were pulled apart.

Katen cast the cryptic allure of "Eros" slicing through the air in positions reminiscent of Egyptian depictions of bird gods. Aaron Selissen and Kudo were Limon’s love birds, but this was no Disney billing and cooing, they had a private and dynamically amorous language. The ensemble sections were thrilling with dancers clustered in magnetized formations or flying amok. “The Winged” was exemplar of Limón at his most inspired and choreographically rapturous.
Limon Dance Company in Jose Limon's 'Mazurkas.'

Limon Dance Company in Jose Limon's "Mazurkas."


Limon Dance Company in Jose Limon's 'The Moor's Pavane.'

Limon Dance Company in Jose Limon's "The Moor's Pavane."


Limon Dance Company in Jose Limon's 'The Winged.'

Limon Dance Company in Jose Limon's "The Winged."

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