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Limón Dance Company Offers Somethings Old and Somethings New

A judicious mix of now-classic Limón works from the 1950s and 1960s along with pieces by current choreographers made for a superb evening of dance on Friday, May 3rd 2014 at the Joyce. For me, Limón’s decades-old masterworks have stood the test of time. Not only that, but I applaud artistic director Carla Maxwell for choosing to keep them alive for today’s dancegoers. As I always used to tell my ballet students, we can’t hang our history on a wall in a museum. The only way to preserve our past is for each new generation of dancers to be adept at performing the entire range of what has gone before as well as what is being created in the present.

“Mazurkas”, which premiered in 1958, was danced to live solo piano accompaniment by Vanessa Perez. She did an admirable job of playing the Chopin compositions. I was particularly taken by the group of three men performing to Opus 33, no 2, a selection used for Fokine’s 1909 “Les Sylphides”. What a joy to see those vigorous male dancers romping to music that usually brings to mind ethereal-looking ballerinas in long white tutus and on pointe!

Next up was a long and deftly danced solo for associate artistic director and principal dancer Roxanne D’Orleans Juste on the occasion of her 30th anniversary with the company. “She Who Carries the Sky”, with choreography by Diane McIntyre to a musical pastiche, had its World Premiere on April 29th 2014. Juste is as agile and expressive as ever and she turned in a performance worthy of the enthusiastic applause she received. In particular, the way she manipulated a long scarf that variously became a head wrap, a shawl, a belt, and a flowing “river” of fabric was impressive.

The third piece also had it World Premiere of April 29th 2014. Sean Curran’s “Nocturne for Ancestors” is set to music by Lucia Caruso and Pedro H. da Silva, commissioned for the dance, and a program note next to the choreography credit says “in collaboration with the dancers”. This may have accounted for the sheer joy and enthusiasm with which all 13 members of the troupe executed the movements and patterns based on East Indian dance. The costumes by Amanda Shafran added to the ebullience with a riot of color.

The closer was “Psalm”, an all-time Limón favorite from 1967 that was re-staged and adapted by Carla Maxwell in 2002 to newly commissioned music by Jon Magnuseen. A review of 1967 premiere in the in New London Day said the dance was "a work of great compassion, beauty and meaning". That is as good a description now as it was then. The piece is based on the ancient Jewish belief that all the sorrows of the world rest upon 36 men. Limón condensed those 36 men into one character called "The Just Man" who was surrounded by “Expiratory Figures” and “Psalmists”, In Limón’s own words, “The choreographic treatment as I envision it would be an evocation of the heroic power of the human spirit, triumphant over death itself.” He did indeed succeed in making a dance that communicated that vision.

As a young dance student at Interlochen during my teenage summers, I was privileged to learn Limón technique from Joseph Gifford and William Hug. I was a ballet major but we took a modern class every morning. (The “moderns” also took a ballet class every day and one of those students was Janet Eilber!) In any case, practicing the “Limón walk” across the floor in the huge main studio with a glorious view of the lake is an indelible memory. How wonderful that the repertoire created by José Limón, one of the greatest of the modern pioneers, is still curated and presented today. The run at the Joyce is over for this season, but don’t miss the chance to see the company in the future. You won’t be disappointed!

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