Limón Dance Company

Gerald W. Lynch Theatre, John Jay College
10th Avenue at 58th Street, New York City
June 8–12, 2011

A Review

It was indeed a pleasure for me to see classical modern dance—the work of José Limón in particular—performed with such elegance and verity to the original choreography. I have no doubt that this is due in large measure to Carla Maxwell who knows so well the source, the flavor, the nuance, and the vocabulary of Limón’s work.

That this production did not have quite the pristine mounting that it deserves was an annoyance that I overlooked, as I reveled in the sweep of images. But long overtures in a completely black house makes one restless—often too long to prepare us for what we are about to see (which is what overtures are suppose to do). Light that spills onto the proscenium arch, cables hanging in full view, and an overall brightness that dulls the sensitivity could all have be avoided with very little additional care.

As I looked over the audience I could not help but observe its maturity. Many of these viewers had, as I had, seen José Limón dance The Emperor Jones (1956) and The Moor’s Pavane (1948) and must have missed, as I did, the towering presence of Limón himself. No matter how immaculately Daniel Felecus Soto and Francisco Ruvalcaba reproduce the design of the movements, their shorter stature kept them from recapturing Limón’s majestic presence.

This season presents two dances by choreographers outside of the Limón repertory. In the first evening, Chrysalis had the support of live accompaniment (choreographed Jonathan Fredrickson, with music composed by Marcos Galvany, 2010). The design of the motion of this dance, performed entirely by women, are true to the Limon aesthetic, but I kept seeing the motion the first section of this suite, with the dancers in leotards and tights, as one designed for male dancers. However, the dancers reappear in the second section in dresses, and the sweeping skirts complement the motion.

The second evening opened with a revival of Jiri Kylian’s La Cathedrale Engloutie (1975), also with live accompaniment. The overture gave us the sounds of the distant seashore. Then the curtain rises on four tree trunks randomly distributed on the stage and four dancers standing in profile facing offstage, richly lit in strongly sculpted amber. The sounds of the seashore continue, augmented by live piano throughout the piece. It is a dramatic couples’ dance with intricate shapes as they interact with one another, and includes both strong male and female duets.

There is a Time (Limón/Dello Joio, 1956) is one of Limón’s sweeping religious themes, which he produced with such passion and care. Here he blends a large choral group against a series of solos, duets, and trios with such skill that one feels soothed and peaceful.

Mexican National Premiere of Missa Brevis
Photo: Secretary of Culture, Government of the State of Colima

And then Missa Brevis (1958), which one might consider the major offering of this Limón season, is another sweeping master work based on a religious theme and in many ways seems an enlargement of the choreographic design presented in There is a Time. For this season the company is judiciously augmented by a group of dancers from Limón’s native Mexico. The enlarged company filled the stage with movement as the music filled the auditorium and honed our perceptions to feel as Limón felt in participating in the mass.

I could trek to Tenth Avenue to see it all again.

—Ruth Grauert, June 9, 2011