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Limon Dance Company

by Robert Abrams
May 8, 2003
The Joyce Theater
175 Eighth Avenue (at the corner of 19th Street)
New York, NY 10011
212-242-0800

Limón Dance Company

presented at the Joyce Theatre

(www.limon.org)

Review by Robert Abrams
May 8, 2003

The Unsung

(First performed in 1970. Choreography by José Limon. Staging and direction by Gary Masters. Rehearsal direction by Carla Maxwell. Costume Design by Charles Schoonmaker. Lighting design by Ted Sullivan. Dancers: Roel Seeber, Kurt Douglas, Charles Scott, Francisco Ruvalcaba, Raphaël Boumaïla, Robert Regala, Jonathan Riedel.)

The stage filled with golden light. There was no music, but the strike of the dancers' heels provided its own accompaniment. This is a dance with clear Native American roots. The choreography built on these roots without being stereotypical. The Unsung had many creative transitions from one soloist to another. Often the soloist would assume a pose. A group of dancers would then rapidly move onto the stage, adopt the soloist's pose, and then leave with the soloist, depositing a new soloist on the stage.

All of the dancers' performances were very strong. I liked the concept, and the audience was very vocal in their approval, but I thought the dance lacked a certain dramatic urgency.


Members of the Limón Dance Company in José Limón's THE UNSUNG
Photo courtesy of Beatriz Schiller

New Dance, Variations and Conclusion

(First performed in 1935. Choreography by Doris Humphrey. Staging and direction by Lucy Venable. Music by Wallingford Riegger performed by David LaMarche and Steven V. Mitchell. Costume Design by Candace Chase. Lighting design by Ted Sullivan. Set and costumes courtesy of Deborah Carr. Dancers: Raphaël Boumaïla, Kathryn Alter, Brenna Monroe-Cook, Charles Scott, Kurt Douglas, Roel Seeber, Roxane D'Orléans Juste, Jonathan Riedel, Ryoko Kudo, Robert Regala.)

The dancers were dressed in red, white and brown. The dance had the feel of a modern work married to a Virginia Reel. There was much activity in this dance - spinning and lines rotating in circles - like an abstracted wedding or community event.


Kimiye Corwin in Doris Humphrey's NEW DANCE, VARIATIONS & CONCLUSION
Photo courtesy of Beatriz Schiller

Phantasy Quintet

(First performed in 2002. Choreography by Adam Hougland. Music by Ralph Vaughn Williams. Rehearsal direction by Roxane D'Orléans Juste. Costume Design by Marion Williams. Lighting design by Clifton Taylor. Dancers: Brenna Monroe-Cook, Francisco Ruvalcaba, Kurt Douglas, Kristen Foote, Ryoko Kudo, Charles Scott, Roel Seeber.)

This work featured a beautiful integration of the soloists with the ensemble. Lyrical balletic sections alternated with staccato angular interludes. The dancers showed off elegant partnering. They were supple and expressive. The dance's macro-structure had a good flow from section to section, and was fully capable of sustaining its length. The lighting had pop and showed off the dancers very well.


Members of the Limón Dance Company in Adam Hougland's PHANTASY QUINTET
Photo courtesy of Beatriz Schiller

The Moor's Pavane

(First performed in 1949. Choreography by José Limón. Music by Henry Purcell, arranged by Simon Sadoff. Direction by Carla Maxwell. Costume Design by Pauline Lawrence. Lighting design by Steve Woods. Dancers: Francisco Ruvalcaba as The Moor, Jonathan Riedel as His Friend, Roxane D'Orléans Juste as His Friend's Wife, Kimiye Corwin as The Moor's Wife.)

Like the previous works that merged modern dance with other forms, this work merged Renaissance modes with modern sensibilities. The lighting was very good. This work is based on Othello and retains a sliver of the play's narrative. Unfortunately, the narrative seemed to be a crutch. I could tell there was something important going on, but it was not clear what. For instance, Othello kills his girl in white, but it is not clear why. A narrator might have freed the piece to be both more sharply dramatic and at the same time let the dance be more focussed as dance. Or one could remove the narrative entirely and let the work just be pure dance. The work was hobbled by its narrative and led to too much standing around and acting. I saw this element in the work largely because Saskia Beskow had brought the concept to my attention during her interview (although in her case she was commenting on classical story ballets - it just goes to show that no matter how far apart dance traditions diverge, the fundamental challenges and choices in choreography in each tradition still have much in common).

Of course, arguing that this use of narative is a flaw, that I would rather have seen the work as a pure dance work, is somewhat ironic considering that usually I complain that dance works don't have enough narrative. Despite my concerns, I thought the work was well danced and I liked the choreography. It was interesting throughout.

Modern dance can have a very personal reaction in each audience member. I loved Phantasy Quintet and liked the other works. An audience member I talked to as I was leaving the theatre liked The Moor's Pavane better than Phantasy Quintet. True art does not exist in isolation from the audience, so such variable preferences are to be expected. It should also be noted that I happened to like the newest work presented, Phantasy Quintet, better than the older works. While I do not claim to be, nor would I want to be, the final barometer of modern dance, this preference does suggest that the Limón Dance Company is a living, growing entity. After all, artists always hope that the audience will love their newest work. I think the founders of the company would be pleased to see such growth.

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