BWW Review: Jose Limon

I wish I could have been more enthusiastic about the all-José Limón program on October 25, 2015, at 2 pm. It wasn't the dancers-just the repertory.

Still, my admiration for the company and the fact that they are still performing at such a high level is a testament to its founder, José Limón, and the current artistic director, Carla Maxwell, who will be stepping down soon.

Orfeo is a rather static retelling of the eponymous legend, set to Beethoven's String Quartet Op. 95, #11, which, while one of Beethoven's most mysterious and compelling opuses, does not lend itself to dance. There are grand gestures, lots of billowing gauze, and gazes. But, very much like George Balanchine's Orpheus, its movement and lack of tension adds more tedium than drama.

You would think that a man descending into Hades would lend itself easily to a dance drama. But, no. I came away from the performance numb and mentally removed from what I had seen on stage, despite the fine performances by Aaron Selissen as Orfeo and Ryoko Kudo as Eurydice.

Chaconne is a problem, at least as far as I am concerned. While Bach has been used successfully in dance many times before, the Chaconne from Partita #2 in D Minor for Unaccompanied Violin is musically removed from dance, almost relegating itself into a corner and asking not to be touched. After all, what would dance add to its already imposing structure and sound?

Having seen Chaconne on other occasions I have always been struck by the work's push to show how cerebral, how important it is. But I have never been convinced. But the performance by Terry Springer of Coreoarte is stupendous. A small compact man with a sensitive face, expressive arms, and noble bearing, he almost succeeds in making the dance a major work in the Limon canon. But it's just not possible, at least to me.

Dances for Isadora has always been a mystery to me. We hear so much about Duncan, yet we still have no real idea of how she danced or what her appeal was exactly. Truthfully, we never will. But stories of the flesh in motion, the feel of dancer to audience, and the immediacy of her performances on the audiences, allowing them to leap and exclaim that Duncan was a revelation that was finally being discovered by them for the first time in their theatre going-careers, have become legendary.

So how did I go about judging the performance? I simply took Limón's choreography at face value. He has choreographed five aspects of Duncan's life, filtered through his imagination. Since I doubt that Limón ever saw Duncan perform, he could only use old clippings, photographs, newspaper articles, and perhaps the remembrances of audience members who had actually seen her. But does it really contribute to a full picture of the artist, or is it just another choreographic enigma, designed to give us Limon's view of an icon whose world he really never knew, or perhaps didn't understand.

Whatever the intention, I came away with no vivid picture of Duncan. But how can one when so much has become myth, and we know little of her reality, as hard as we try to excavate her life story? We never will, and I imagine the legend will continue to grow with each succeeding generation.

Kristen Foote as Primavera, Ryoko Kudo as Maenad, Kathryn Alter as Niobe, Logan Kruger as La Patrie and Roxanne D'Orleans Juste as the Scarf Dance performed with force and imagination. As individuals in their solos they were impressive. But it did not add up, just as much as Duncan does for us today in the 21st century.

The program concluded with The Traitor, a dance parable of the Judas Iscariot-Jesus Christ's last kiss. I might be in the minority here, but not having seen it for many years, I somehow started comparing it to a Jerome Robbins/Martha Graham dance story. There was something in the movement, perhaps the overall feel of the piece, all men not just dancing, but jiving. If not in reality, it stayed in the back of my mind.

There was also just a whiff of latent homosexuality in the piece. I'm all for it, but it's all covert. Since it was choreographed, same sex partnering and gay subtexts were not in vogue. So we all wait for the punch, and we get it when Judas finally kisses Jesus, but it's a long time coming. Historically the piece is important, but I don't know if gay historians know about it. Perhaps they should. Has anyone ever written a Ph.D. thesis on this work? I'd be curious to read it.

Mark Willis and Francisco Ruvalcaba were both excellent in the leading roles, performing with such conviction and depth of feeling that I was almost moved by the dance. But the pretensions of the men, the real idea of gay love-or hate-was missing.

I can probably blame it on the times. What could we expect from the McCarthy era of human witch hunting? Perhaps The Traitor can deliver more than the performance I saw. But I doubt it. Still, when I think of 1954 and Limón's bravery in even attempting this, I am impressed with the man's courage and moral fortitude. That's one thing you can't say about many people.

Photograph: Beatriz Schiller



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From This Author Barnett Serchuk

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