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Flash Review 1, 11-16: "Theirs is the Kingdom...."
The Limon Dance Company, Layer Upon Layer

By Tom Patrick
Copyright 2001 Tom Patrick

NEW YORK -- In the second night of its two-week season at the Joyce Theater Wednesday, the Limon Dance Company proved again that foundation is everything. Fifty-plus years into things, Jose Limon's legacy lives on in good hands, good feet, and good hearts.

It's always a question in the background: Can an institution survive beyond the life-span(s) of the the visionary(ies)? Will the important work go on, will the work thrive or become frozen as museum-pieces...or worst of all, will it simply decay and become a footnote, a marker of some place-and-time only? Modern dance companies, which most often take their aesthetic stamp from one individual's views and modes, are particularly prone to these concerns. Being an evaporative art form, our work as dancers and choreographers lives on scant printed pages (though much is being tried to correct this, through the diligent work of tireless notation folks) and videos or film. All of these take more than a little effort to exploit back into the three-dimensional space-and-time thing we call dance in the present. It takes more than preservation efforts, more than archiving....I'll go out on a limb and say that it takes belief. Belief in someone's vision and beyond to where it merges with one's own view of things....This kind of "sympathy," these overlapping flames, are what keep an artist's vision alive. When I'm down the road there trying to figure out my bifocals and social security checks, what treasures of my twentieth-century dance experience will be around or worth looking at? Whose voices will be our classics and our legends?

Jose Limon's intentions appear very well served if today's Limon Company's dancers are any indication (not to mention their very considerable artistic staff offstage.) These are committed people, obviously. While I can claim no long history of studying this rich body of work or it's fascinating technique, I daresay that workaday dancers just couldn't pull this stuff off as naturally, as richly.

Sharing in the experience of Mr. Limon's "There Is A Time" (opening this program "A") --which uses the lyric see-saw of Ecclesiastes Chapter 3 -- erases all doubt. A circle. How many great wordsmiths, how many composers and painters have held up this image to us as proof of our paradoxical oneness? And yet it bears repeating: a circle. The curtain rises to reveal the cast linked so, facing inward and stretched far from one another, but held together communally by an enviable gravity and surety, an undeniable magnetic pull toward each other. They begin with the simplest of phrasing, but it is the masterful editing of the creator that rings through. As the dancers progress through the oscillations of the human condition, a deepened motive becomes evident: beyond dancing and externalizing their belief in Mr. Limon's works, they re-affirm and unabashedly concur with the humanitarian beliefs that moved him to make his work. It is a beautiful prayer, wonderfully danced. I particularly appreciated an early solo, "A time to be born, and a time to die" as invoked by Robert Regala, and the women's trio of "A time to mourn;...and a time to weep." Roxanne D'Orleans Juste and Jonathon Rydell were beautiful in "A time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing," and the legendary and evergreen Nina Watt was all flying tresses and real ferocity in "A time to hate, a time of war." They shine, oh how they shine!

Overall, I find Limon's choreography/technique/style delicious.... I find such satisfaction in viewing this work: compositionally, kinetically, aurally, spiritually. There is a great harmony about it, the way principles inform and shape phrase after beautiful phrase. It ain't no mistake that these are timeless legends (witness also Limon's "Missa Brevis.") The full use of the stage gives that connotation of the dance as happening beyond the wings as well, a universality, I guess....

After our interval, we in the house got a look at what else the Limon Company has been up to lately.... As part of its current project, "Limon and Jazz," other choreographers take a crack at this top-drawer company in exploring syntheses of two very American art forms: modern dance and jazz music. Currently they are two-thirds finished with a suite of contemporary works, and currently are presenting Billy Siegenfeld's "If Winter" and Artistic Mentor Donald McKayle's "Cross Roads."

Siegenfeld's "If Winter" is a tour de force rhythm locomotive. To a score that draws upon wonderful recordings of jazz classics by jazz classics, the Limon dancers are pushed beyond the fluidity of Limon's classicism to some dazzling syncopations, and they sizzle. The scope of the work as it relates to the musical impulses is so appropriate, not overdone, that there's room for wit and nuance. Part of this must certainly be the foundation possessed by these dancers confronting Mr. Siegenfeld when rehearsals began. He exploits to a tee the cast's abilities to imbue a simple phrase with interesting angles and richness. The piece looks like the music sounds, the cast living in many dimensions onstage there. While a very good-natured atmosphere prevails, there is nothing incidental or accidental at work, no triviality. Witty, accurate, and fresh, these performers constantly lend extra value to each note and step.

During the pause that followed, we were treated to a terrific musical segue from the James Newton Ensemble, who would soon throw their passions into flutist Newton's score for "Cross Roads." Their music was satisfying as jazz is when we swing into waves of theme-and-variation, but intriguing beyond that as well. An artist who nudges the sphere of our "acceptance" of forms can do so in so many ways, ranging from patronizing to alienating. On this occasion, however, the musical nudges were interesting and always well-served through the virtuosity of the band.

Donald McKayle's "Cross Roads" begins as a solidly-constructed ensemble piece, with great textural depth and a sly interplay of fore- and background. Musically inspired, of course! Found myself wishing my "third eye" was more attuned, as there was great dancing all over that stage, in phrases that capitalize on the company's considerable interpretive abilities. Somewhere there a sub-theme of clans emerges though, as lovers emerge from these two onstage groups, and confront their undeniable feelings. While the couple-work of Kimiye Corwin and Dante Puleio was ecstatic and real, teasing out phrasing with great realism and ease, other "cultural" influences must weigh in (remember the circle) in the parental personages of Mary Ford and Francisco Ruvalcaba. Their relationship, tempered by more time spent with inherited mistrust, gave voice to a conflict beyond the naivete of youth.... They trembled and throbbed together, hardly immune to the feelings given in to so naturally by the "young." Choreographically the piece is rich, and flows by with deceptive speed, like any good story. Ultimately, our fearless young lovers are visited by an incongruous character, a trickster or a god, in the person of Mr. Regala. His is a frenzied role, exhorting and insistent upon something, and I wondered whether he -- as Hamlet once quipped---protests too much. He enters as a storm, and continues in such a whirlwind of motion that I felt the wave of his [presumed] power over the others might be getting lost through sheer volume, and I was left wondering.... But not to speak ill of it -- I found "Cross Roads" to be over too soon, as I was becoming so intrigued by this amalgamation of influences combining to explore an ever-present situation amongst our human communities.

Take my advice people, please, and get ye down to the Joyce this month and see the Limon Company.... They are cooking, and using ALL of the right stuff.

The Limon Company's run at New York's Joyce Theater continues through November 25....Three programs...no waiting! For more information, please visit the Joyce Web site.

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