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Flash Review 1, 11-16: "Theirs is
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
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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