IMPRESSIONS: Limón Dance Company at The Joyce Theater
In the Garden of Earthy Delights
May 3, 2017
Choreography: Jose Limón, Colin Connor, Kate Weare
Music: Antonio Vivaldi, Philip Glass, Arnold Schoenberg, Johann Sebastian Bach, Victoire, Heinrich Ignaz Franz Bilber
Lighting: Christopher Chambers, KD Kroth, Clifton Taylor
Costumes: Colin Conner & Keiko Voltaire, Pauline Lawrence, Fritz Masten
How does a legacy company remain sexy in an age of digital instant gratification? Ask Colin Connor. Under his new artistic directorship, the Limón Dance Company returned to the Joyce Theater for its annual season in splendid form and with a look of intoxicating danger.
May 3rd's PROGRAM A opened familiarly enough with a lucid interpretation of Concerto Grosso. Though no new ground was broken with this performance, it was refreshing to see a multi-generational cast of dancers working together to unfurl the choreographic splendor of Limón’s bouncy patterns and musical wit. Concerto Grosso is a moderate treat interspersed with sudden peaks of energy that simmer down to a satisfying final pose.
Suddenly, a gang wearing dark leather gear swoops in to carve through the space. Actually, we are still watching the Limón dancers, only now they have more contemporary slice to their attack and less modern release. This sudden shift in tone is discombobulating until Connor’s mannered introductory dance phrases coalesce into a shifting formation not unlike a marching band’s set. Recall Gower Champion’s staging for Before The Parade Passes By; mix with contemporary dance textures inspired by avian tics; then play Philip Glass’ propulsively charging Violin Concerto #1, and what you get is Corvidae.
Returning to Limón reveals a majestic performance of The Exiles from Kristen Foote. In this fall of biblical man, I can only bring myself to care about Eve. This is no slight against Mark Willis’ Adam. Something about Foote overpowers the senses as her luminous presence ripples across the stage. Though delivering an emotionally stolid performance, a communion of despair is transmitted with her every step. More than Eve, she is the avatar of every woman who has ever born an indecipherable pain.
The never-ending inventiveness of Suite From A Choreographic Offering; For Doris Humphrey sent the audience flying into bouts of ecstasy. Lovingly composed by Jose Limón in tribute to Humphrey, this kaleidoscope of movement looks and feels like a panoply of folk-dances condensed to their most exciting patterns to portray humanity’s generosity. That generosity is fully embodied by the dancers who give of themselves entirely even as they continue turning into the blackout.
Kate Weare’s Night Light settles the argument for why more women should be given choreographic commissions. In this nightlife the dancers are embroiled in a game of chess wherein one’s actions boomerang back, but not before setting off a wave of scintillating variation. We are watching the law of unintended consequences personified through dance. Illustrating the power of togetherness against the whole, Night Light opens with a couple engaged in a stop-and-go pas de deux as a wall of bodies assemble and devolve around them. Playing against cliché, it is the woman who handles her man in this duet. Refreshingly the dance continues to play against expectations, with same gendered partnering and fascinating role-reversals, even as it adheres to its formula of ever changing couples dancing in counterpoint to the ensemble. The night ends with a duet of startling physical effects between two men: squared off in stark contrast to one another, framed by two walls of bodies, these men bring the lights down as they turn to face the audience with a piercing look that casually mutters, “And what of it?”
The following evening I attended PROGRAM B, which mirrored PROGRAM A save for its substitution of Chaconne for The Exiles. Having recently observed Dance Theatre of Harlem’s gala premiere of Chaconne — with five dancers trading off sections — I was unprepared for its magnificence as a solo. Here Limón’s choreography goes beyond zestful musicality, revealing his mastery of composition and emotional modulation. As interpreted by Kathryn Alter, a plaintive yearning grows into a whirling dervish of never-ending turns that suspend and contract. The Russians have a word for this: plastique. Watching Ms. Alter devour space — accompanied live on violin by Johnny Gandelsman — I suddenly remembered how amazing Jose Limón was. This Mexican man traveled far to realize his dreams and left a legacy on par with Alvin Ailey and Martha Graham.
With six new dancers joining its roster and an excellent new leader at the helm, that legacy is as secure as ever. After a long drought of excitement, I am intrigued to see what the company does next.