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Flash Review 1, 11-14: Limon, Generations
Back to the Future at 55

By Sandra Aberkalns
Copyright 2001 Sandra Aberkalns

NEW YORK -- In the past eight weeks everything has changed and yet nothing has changed. While too much change can be discombobulating, it is the natural order of things. We're always yearning for something new, something different, while at the same time we want to be reassured that everything is as it always has been. Finding a balance between the two can be tricky, but it seems that the Limon Dance Company, which is celebrating its 55th anniversary season, has done just that. During the company's two week run, at the Joyce Theater, it will offer beloved classics alongside premieres, while showcasing its new kids on the block next to seasoned veterans. This season, as artistic director Carla Maxwell put it before last night's gala performance, is also meant to honor the senior artists for their accomplishments as dancers, choreographers, coaches, and stagers.

This gala was a veritable smorgasbord with something for everyone. There was so much going on that I won't be able to mention every work, dancer, and choreographer and for that I apologize in advance, but here are a few highlights.

I found Mary Ford to be delightful, in the role originally danced by Betty Jones, in Doris Humphrey's "Invention" (1949). Ford was able to convey the sensibility of her role (bright, gay, and giddy), without sacrificing the sense of weight that is so important in Humphrey's works.

David LaMarche (the company's music director) did a wonderful job accompanying the next two works on the piano.

In the first work of the evening, Limon alumna Risa Steinberg performed excerpts (Envy and Wrath) from Eleanor King's "Roads to Hell" (1940-41). For some, the choreography may seem dated, but I must admit that I enjoy this genre of choreography (I would add to this category Wigman's "Hexentanz" and Bodenweiser's "The Demon Machine"). Steinberg is a superb actress who happens to tell her story through movement. Even when all she's doing is standing in place performing the smallest hand gesture, her charisma just explodes off the stage.

Rachmaninoff's "Prelude in C Minor" provided the musical backdrop for my rave of the evening: the premiere of Doug Varone's "Short Story," with Nina Watt and Varone performing. What an incredibly dynamic duo! There is nothing wrong with this piece, the music, lighting (a square of white light gives the impression that one is looking through a window) choreography, performance, length -- everything was just right. This duet is about mature love. This relationship is complicated; it's painful, wanting, needing, giving, taking, denying, and more than anything else it's extremely intimate. One moment that is particularly poignant, for me, comes when Watt and Varone finish down on the floor. Even though Varone seems to have given up, Watt tries to stand up but ends up on her knees and then, suddenly, she literally plops down on her hip like a rag doll. She then repeats the movement, reinforcing the utter futility of it all. The magic did not end with the dancers taking their bows. As they were exiting the stage, Varone must have said something to Watt because she smiled and gave him a friendly nudge to his chest. It too was a very intimate moment, but one of mutual respect and camaraderie.

Watching Mark Haim in an excerpt from his "Goldberg Variations" (1994-97) or Roxane D'Orleans Juste in an excerpt from Donald McKayle's "Heartbeats (Oneero)" (1997) is pure joy. As with Watt, Varone, and Steinberg, time, experience, and maturity has taught these artists how to use their bodies in a holistic way. The music never seems too fast, as they really use the full value of each note. They conserve energy when the movement doesn't require it, which lets the muscles gear up to exert a tremendous amount of power when they do need it. They really seem to enjoy moments of stillness; there is no desire to be anywhere but where they are at the moment. They understand the possibilities of what their bodies are capable of and are willing to explore the highs, lows, and every nuance in between. Stroke by stroke they create complex canvases, which move in time and space. Watching these performers is to truly understand what it means to watch artists at work.

The younger generation is nothing to sneeze at either. I had the privilege of working with Kimiye Corwin and Francisco Ruvalcaba when they were students at The Juilliard School. They already had that something-special back then, but to see how they have grown since joining this company says a lot about the work Carla Maxwell and Nina Watt are doing behind the scenes.

Change can be a good thing. If you've never seen the Limon Dance Company before you should. If it's been awhile since you've seen the company, the younger dancers are growing up fast and wouldn't it be fun to see how the "kids" turn out? Watt and Juste are in their prime, but who knows what other interests may capture their imaginations and possibly take them away from performing? This company has gone through some tough times and while remaining true to the vision of its founders, it has also found a way to grow and change.

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