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Limón Dance Company Program Complements Classics with Contemporary Works

by Bonnie Rosenstock
June 8, 2019
The Joyce Theater
175 Eighth Avenue (at the corner of 19th Street)
New York, NY 10011
212-242-0800
The Limón Dance Company, now in its 73rd year, brought a powerhouse program to The Joyce Theater, May 29-June 2 (I attended on May 31). It featured two Jose Limón classics, “The Moor’s Pavane” and “Psalm,” plus two contemporary works that are destined to become classics, Artistic Director Colin Connor’s “The Weather in the Room” and “Radical Beasts in the Forest of Possibilities” by guest choreographer Francesca Harper.

In its New York premiere, “The Weather in the Room” (2015) is an intergenerational work with music by Canadian composer Sarah Shugarman. Guest artists Miki Orihara, former Martha Graham Company soloist, and Stephen Pier, formerly with the Limón Company, among others, are a mature couple whose relationship is examined by six younger members of the company, dressed in white, who re-create, or shift, the weather around them. They perform dynamic group work and three powerful beautifully crafted duets: Duet 1 features great lifts; in Duet 2, the woman does some of the heavy lifting; and Duet 3 is a clash of wills. The mature couple dances touching duets. They mouth and mime conversations of conflict and eventual resolution and weave in and out of the ensemble.

Limón’s seminal “The Moor’s Pavane” (1949), drawn from Shakespeare’s tragedy “Othello,” tells the story of jealousy, betrayal, racism and the destructive power of gossip and innuendo, which Mexican-born Limón (1908-1972) understood all too well. The piece is masterfully danced by the majestic Mark Willis as The Moor; Jesse Obremski as the unctuous backstabber Friend; Jacqueline Bulnes as the complicit and misguided Friend’s Wife; and Savannah Spratt as The Moor’s Wife, the sacrificial innocent. The quartet was created in the form of a Pavane (a slow stately dance, popular in the 16th and 17th centuries, performed in elaborate clothing) and other high Renaissance dances, set to music by English composer Henry Purcell (1659-1695). Besides the four dancing together in formal fashion, there were wonderful duets showcasing the love between The Moor and His Wife, his later suspicion and rage; the Friend literally clinging to The Moor’s back, seeking recognition and affirmation, while the Moor tries to slough him off (my favorite section); His Friend and His Wife, complicit in destroying the couple and then His Wife’s regrets. Thankfully, the strangulation is hidden behind the other couple; only the tragic result is revealed. It is rightly considered one of the greatest dance works of the 20th century.

Francesca Harper created “Radical Beasts in the Forest of Possibilities” (World Premiere) with the dancers in collaboration with Nona Hendryx, who played her rhythmic composition live on piano, with disjointed techno digitally recorded sounds. Much of the work was built on intention-based improvisation, which challenged the eight dancers outside of their comfort zone. The “radical beasts” are seeking connection in a world where time is fractured. There is shaking, rolls on the floor, lots of running and also moments of stillness followed by quick sharp movements. Frances Samson is outstanding in a terrific tour de force solo, where she wildly throws herself off balance and recovers in the blink of an eye, a testament to Limón’s technique, which emphasizes the natural rhythms of fall and recovery and the interplay between weight and weightlessness. The piece begins and ends with the same lone female dancer shining a flashlight.

In 2002, Carla Maxwell, who helmed the company for 38 years (1978-2016) before handing over the reins to Connor, boldly restaged and pared down Limón’s monumental “Psalm” (1967) and commissioned a new score by Jon Magnussen. According to Jewish belief, all the sorrows of the world rest within 36 just men. This dance distills it down to one suffering noble figure, incredibly portrayed by David Glista, aided by his two expiatory figures, Savannah Spratt and Frances Samson, and the extraordinary company. It is a visual sensation with dramatic lighting and the ensemble’s use of distinctive arm shapes and fast-paced movement repertoire.
Miki Orihara and Stephen Pier in Colin Connor’s “The Weather in the Room”.

Miki Orihara and Stephen Pier in Colin Connor’s “The Weather in the Room”.

Photo © & courtesy of Christopher Jones


Lauren Twomley and Eric Parra in Colin Connor’s “The Weather in the Room”.

Lauren Twomley and Eric Parra in Colin Connor’s “The Weather in the Room”.

Photo © & courtesy of Christopher Jones


Frances Samson and Terrence D.M. Diable in Colin Connor’s “The Weather in the Room”.

Frances Samson and Terrence D.M. Diable in Colin Connor’s “The Weather in the Room”.

Photo © & courtesy of Christopher Jones


Jesse Obremski (front) and company in 'The Moor's Pavane'.

Jesse Obremski (front) and company in "The Moor's Pavane".

Photo © & courtesy of Hayam Harim


The Company in 'Psalm'.

The Company in "Psalm".

Photo © & courtesy of Christopher Jones

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