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[DANCE REVIEW] Jose Limon at Jacob's Pillow

Limon Dance Company
Ted Shawn Theatre
June 28-July 2, 2006


Evening Songs
choreography by Jiri Kylian

Dance in the Sun
choreography by Daniel Nagrin

Angelitos Negros
choreography by Donald McKayle

A Choreographic Offering
choreography by Jose Limon, based on choreography by Doris Humphrey

choreography by Lar Lubovitch

Review by Seth Rogovoy, critic-at-large, Berkshire Living

Every once in a while, it's important to start over again -- to check back in with the sources in order to better understand how we got to where we are and what we are doing today.

This goes for everything: movies, music, visual art, theater. Without an understanding of the Greeks and Shakespeare, you can't truly appreciate David Mamet. Jackson Pollock without reference to Van Gogh, or Van Gogh without reference to DaVinci, is the very definition of meaninglessness.

And so too it is with dance. The polyglot of styles and languages we call modern dance cry out for some sort of order, some sort of appeal to a creation story, if only to better appreciate the leaps and bounds (puns intended) dance has made over the last quarter century on its way toward becoming such a vibrant, immediate, powerful art form.

But what came before? What came before the revolutionaries like Cunningham and Morris? Tharp and Brown? Before those who gave birth to the explosion of styles to which we're treated every summer at Jacob's Pillow?

Fortunately, we get a taste of these forerunners each summer, checking in with such stalwarts as Martha Graham Dance, Paul Taylor, and, this week, Jose Limon, the late Mexican-American choreographer who died in 1972 and whose company is now led by Carla Maxwell.

The program at Jacob's Pillow this week is for the most part a retrospective, boasting dances dating as far back as 1951, and averaging approximately one per decade ever since.

As such, the program offers a kind of travel through time effect, a look at how dance has progressed (both in general and specifically in this company) over the last 55 years or so.

As represented by some of the earlier pieces, including Dance in the Sun and A Choreographic Offering, the Limon company still had one foot in ballet in its earliest years, although with a strong sense of wanting to break free from classical strictures. Dance in the Sun, a solo danced here by Raphael Boumaila to playful, inverted ragtime piano music by Ralph Gilbert, was full of runs and leaps carving out space and angles. A Choreographic Offering, danced to the music of Johann Sebastian Bach, was a suite of ensemble numbers, solos, and duos, very much based on the work of Limon's cofounder, Doris Humphrey. In effect it was a progression of classroom exercises, very balletic, and its best at the end featured striking group coordination.

Angelitos Negros was a solo showcase for one of the group's star dancers, Roxane D'Orleans Juste, to a jazzy flamenco-ish tune sung by Roberta Flack (who apparently was a real jazz singer before going pop!). Juste showed remarkable muscle control in her kicks and lifts, which had to be coordinated with scooping up the bottom of her long flamenco skirt.

By intermission, one seemed to have a good sampler of the Limon company's esthetic and approach -- revolutionary in its time, relatively tame and even conservative by contemporary standards. The dancers were terrific, with several standouts especially among the women, but the work didn't resonate strongly in any urgent way.

That changed, however, with the final piece -- if you're thinking of leaving after intermission, don't! The evening concludes with a new piece premiered just last fall. Recordare, choreographed by Lar Lubovitch, was a colorful danse macabre, a humorous riff on the Mexican Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead), with a cast of characters including widows, brides and grooms, horsemen, spirits, dead people, mariachis, the devil, and the Grim Reaper himself. It was a witty, enjoyable number that proved that the Limon company of today can transcend its roots while at the same time strengthening them in its own native soil.

--Review by Seth Rogovoy, critic-at-large, Berkshire Living

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