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Flash Review 1, 11-27: Murray Louis Returns
New Choreography (From an Ancient Legend):

By Pamela Levy-Arauz
Copyright 2001 Pamela Levy-Arauz

NEW YORK -- I retired from the Murray Louis and Nikolais Dance Company in December of 1999. The one thought that helped comfort me during this self-inflicted departure was that of seeing the company perform at its planned Joyce season the following fall. How exciting it would be to cheer on my talented colleagues in the pieces we previously had danced together! How thrilling it would be to see a new Murray Louis piece of which I had not been a part of the process. Most importantly, I wished to continue to witness the work of a genius to whom I had devoted several years of my life. But the company dissolved and it became apparent this dream would not materialize.

Last Tuesday I had the bittersweet experience of seeing a Louis premiere, but on a different group of dancers. "Isle (From an Ancient Legend)" performed by the Jose Limon Dance Company at the Joyce Theater, was the first premiere by Murray since he disbanded his company in 1999.

"Isle" opens with the striking Roxane D'Orleans Juste as an isolated figure in a gorgeous unitard of small mirrors, designed in gold and black by Frank Garcia. In the darkness, Juste is bird-like, precisely dancing quick and darting movements interlaced with moments of stillness and velvet smoothness. This juxtaposition of qualities is archetypal Murray Louis style and mesmerizing to watch. She is looking and waiting in her loneliness, until she discovers intruders. With a high chord in the music and a fabulous acting moment, she screams a silent scream and runs off-stage.

Suddenly, in a background of a projected blue sky, four men enter. They dance as a unit, often times connected to each other by an arm gesture. They move together and apart with stiff limbs and an air of formality about them. Murray has them move through the space in clear elegant patterns, morphing from quartet to duets and then back again. This inventive carving of the space appears effortless, but surely Murray painstakingly took time to create this kaleidoscopic effect. The four men, technically fantastic and beautiful dancers in their own right, were unable to fully convey Murray's gestured movements. The movements were not danced with the totality so vital to the Nikolais/Louis technique.

As the dance continues, the relationship between D'Orleans Juste and the men develops. Is she their muse, or are they hers? Murray never draws the line, but exploits the many possibilities. He allows the audience to come to their own conclusions.

One of the things I enjoyed most about "Isle" was seeing D'Orleans Juste in Murray's choreography. It was clear to me that there was chemistry between the two and she understood his language. I had seen this before in Murray's own company, particularly with my colleagues Alberto Del Saz and Kimberly Gibilisco. In fact, Juste's quick gestures, strong presence and immediacy in movement reminded me distinctively of Alberto.

Although "Isle" did not posses the brilliant segues between sections one would typically expect of Murray, it did capture so much of what I admire in his choreography. Murray is a master of creating landscapes on bare stage. Without a single prop, one can envision an island, an ocean, warm sunshine, or cool darkness. In a moment one is transported to a world that can only be created in the theater. All of this realized through the use of high caliber dancers, light and space. I vigilantly hope for a return of Murray Louis's own company, but I am content to know he has chosen to continue creating new dances for us all to see in the meantime.


Pamela Levy-Arauz danced with Murray Louis and Nikolais Dance for eight years. She has also performed with Claudia Gitelman Dance Theater, Don Redlich Dance Company and the Metropolitan Opera Ballet. She received her early dance training at the Princeton Ballet School and is a graduate of Mason Gross School of the Arts - Rutgers University. She currently directs the Lily Schrager Program in Creative Dance for Children at Rutgers and is pursuing her Masters degree in Dance Education at Teachers College - Columbia University, all while raising her twin toddler boys.

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