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Flash Review 3, 3-6: Worshipping the Dance
At Church With Limon

By Tom Patrick
Copyright 2000 Tom Patrick

The Limon Dance Company celebrated this week. That is to say, that in addition to whatever calendar anniversaries they observe, they also celebrated a mass, as the church vernacular goes.... That kind of "celebration" in its purer forms dispenses with the vanity factor of "look-how-old-I-am," "been-in-business-for-X-years," "my ____th work." That kind of celebration is a reminder, the reaffirmation of a goal and a mission, using the tools of an assembled group, a profound setting, and a simple message: that we are all connected, vulnerable, noble.

To witness the Limon company perform in a church (I first saw them from the very back of St. John the Divine, years ago) is a marvelous thing, wholly appropriate in light of the very relevant works on the program: Jiri Kylian's "Evening Songs," and Limon's timeless classics "The Moor's Pavane" and "Missa Brevis." The soaring grey walls of Riverside Church were anything but cold as we all assembled, all of us perhaps reflecting a little on other occasions in such environs, bypassing the ordinary public patterns and taking a moment for reflection.

In due time the Riverside Choir filed in, and three maiden dancers took their places to begin "Evening Songs." Then followed the first of many prayers. "Evening Songs" captured me instantly, as so much of Kylian's work does, with its clarity of musical understanding and spacious architecture. From the moment the opening three line up so simply, Dvorak's hymnlike music is beautifully manifested by all. The dancers, seven in all, decorously regard each other (in trios, couples, groups) until they are paired for a more matrimonial-seeming ritual. Of course, it wasn't stuffy as that, not at all. For while the atmosphere was one of dignity (I was thinking of the timeless Amish) there was no stinginess of spirit to it. Kylian's choreography has a sensuality to it, and a relentless relation to the earth that is anything but dry. The dancers of the Limon company danced passionately, hungrily devouring the large expanse of stage space as Sunday afternoon's light came streaming through the stained-glass windows. The dancers were costumed simply: women in simple beige dresses with hair up, the men in black pants and shoes, and white shirts rolled to the elbows. The piece hearkens back to more insular societies, not as fractured or forthright or bizarre as our present one, and when the finishing sextet backs slowly away from us there is a wonderful peace about it. Ironic as an opening piece, perhaps, as it alluded to a day's concluding public prayer and assembly, it left me with such a peaceful feeling....

Luckily for my deadline and you all, there is much already-written elsewhere (and by far better writers) on Limon's "The Moor's Pavane," so I won't embarrass myself or bore you with a re-cap. Please do yourself a favor and browse sometime--for me the Limon legacy is another deep mine that I've as-yet barely peeked into. Some fifty years after premiering, this work still keeps the sharp edge, indeed it does, and that can only be evidence of a very conscientious team of people preserving these dances, caring about them and for them. (Would that it were so everywhere, as every year we lose artists and their works through death, disinterest, lack of preparation. The Limon Foundation should certainly take a bow as a success-story in the right kind of longevity.)

Concerning the dancing in this instance, it was dramatically potent and poignant in the very capable persons of Carlos Orta, Nina Watt as his Wife, Carla Maxwell, and her "husband" the Friend Bradon McDonald. I don't have the space here or the skill to delve properly into their huge artistic contributions but I will say that they were seamlessly intense and relentlessly present, telling one of the oldest stories in searing fresh voices. Mr. McDonald must certainly have invoked the posthumous pride of Lucas Hoving (originator of the protagonist Friend role, and to whom this series of performances was dedicated) with his silky dancing and strong characterization. The Riverside String Orchestra played the Purcell beautifully. Quite a treat....

Concluding this thought-provoking afternoon Was "Missa Brevis" (to Kodaly's "Missa Brevis in Tempore Belli"/"Short Mass in Time of War"). The work was large and expansive, with a pious overtone that reveals a deeper motive for worship: that we may unite to end suffering, to heal. These sentiments saturated the church, and I was truly uplifted. If more people had more opportunities to see this kind of event, in a church, I maintain that we might feel more-often moved to work a little harder on forging the solutions rather than defining the differences in our situations worldwide, citywide, in our families....

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