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Flash Review 1, 11-20: Tacky Wedding
Limon & Louis Hitched in Vegas

By Susan Yung
Copyright 2001 Susan Yung

NEW YORK -- It is no simple task for a 55-year-old company to premiere a dance, with so much history and context to consider. The Limon Dance Company premiered Murray Louis's new work, "Isle (From an Ancient Legend)" Friday at the Joyce Theater. On a program which included works from the '40s as well as another premiere, "Isle" felt oddly anachronistic by a couple of decades, and I don't refer to its subtitle. Its tone -- uncomfortably balanced between operatic expressionism and Vegas satire -- did not solve itself by the piece's conclusion.

Roxane d'Orleans Juste gamely played an insatiable, omnipotent princess looking for diversion in the forms of Dante Puleio, Francisco Ruvalcaba, Jonathan Riedel, and Raphael Boumaila. D'Orleans Juste pulled her shock of wild hair tightly together and mimed a scream, which summoned the four men onstage looking much like a frieze that had just stepped off a Grecian urn. To an eclectic commissioned score by Scott Killian, under dramatic lighting by Louis and Alberto Del Saz, d'Orleans Juste clapped her hands. The men performed cartwheels and stylized, bent-leg layouts for her amusement. They clutched their backs, fatigued from the effort, and dropped their weary heads into upward-cupped palms. Still not satisfied, d'Orleans Juste wiggled her hips like a snake and submerged into a world of private thoughts.

While Las Vegas style has its own unique aesthetic, its manifestation in Frank Garcia's black and gold unitard and tiger-striped velour trunks and leather harnesses seemed out of sorts on this bill. Louis's flair for the operatic meshed with this sensibility, yet I was never certain whether to laugh or cringe at the over-the-top tackiness, so I wound up doing a bit of both.

"Isle" was conveniently, but not flatteringly, juxtaposed with two short, early expressionistic works. Doris Humphrey's "Invention" (1949) opened the evening with a gale of fresh air. Her pure, archetypal modern language, so fundamental to contemporary dance, came across as a folk idiom here, and not the slightest bit stale. An assertive performance by Robert Regala, with Kristen Foote and Kimiye Corwin, underscored the elemental movement: broad, strong shapes in leaps; releves at compass points with the leg in a second attitude; flat, outward-facing palms held high like beacons. A curved arm and near-split, deep lunges felt like essential embellishments.

The second, early short work comprised two excerpts from Eleanor King's "Roads to Hell: Envy, Wrath" (1940-41), performed with great intensity by Risa Steinberg. These character portraits -- expressionistic physical renditions of raging emotions -- employed hissing, spitting, and cackling as loaded signifiers. Steinberg's ever-wilder hair was useful to convey her correspondingly wild psychological state. Barry Gawinski designed the suitably garish green and red lighting.

Yet another early classic, "The Moor's Pavane" (1949) by Jose Limon, was beautifully performed by Ruvalcaba, Nina Watt, Riedel, and Mary Ford. This taut tale based on Shakespeare's "Othello" contained no excessive movement or filler steps. Each motivic gesture was bursting with meaning, and each member of this cast captured his/her role's characteristics perfectly.

The program also included this season's premiere of "Short Story," a moving duet danced by Nina Watt and choreographer Doug Varone to Rachmaninoff. Trapped in a box of light (by Ted Sullivan, who executed much of the evening's lighting) and surrounded by darkness, the couple's nearly every gesture took on two meanings: at once fierce and gentle, hostile and loving, protective and repulsive. The complexity of mature love was eloquently revealed in the course of this too-brief gem.

To read more Flash Reviews of the Limon Dance Company's Joyce season, please enter "Limon" in the search engine window on our Home page.

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