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miliosr

Limon Dance Company

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A few odds and ends:

 

The Juilliard School awarded former Limon company artistic director and current legacy director Carla Maxwell an honorary doctorate. (Juilliard is her alma mater.)

 

Former company associate director Roxane D'Orleans Juste in in Venezuela (!!!) staging Missa Brevis with two Venezuelan dance companies in honor of the 450th anniversary of the founding of Caracas.

 

Longtime company dance Kristen Foote performed with Solange at her recent performance at the Guggenheim.

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Not the Jose Limon Dance Company, but Virginia Johnson spoke at the Celebration of Life for Kabby Mitchell III today in Seattle, and she brought DTH company member Da'Von Doane, who danced Jose Limon's solo "Chaconne" to music by JS Bach.

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3 hours ago, Helene said:

Not the Jose Limon Dance Company, but Virginia Johnson spoke at the Celebration of Life for Kabby Mitchell III today in Seattle, and she brought DTH company member Da'Von Doane, who danced Jose Limon's solo "Chaconne" to music by JS Bach.

 

And he did a wonderful job.  I find it ironic though, that increasingly the Limon repertory is finding a home in ballet companies, since he himself, along with his mentor Doris Humphrey, was so doubtful about ballet as an American dance form.

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7 hours ago, sandik said:

I find it ironic though, that increasingly the Limon repertory is finding a home in ballet companies, since he himself, along with his mentor Doris Humphrey, was so doubtful about ballet as an American dance form.

I don't think that Humphrey and Limon were doubtful about ballet the way that, say, Isadora Duncan was doubtful about it. What I think they would have looked askance at is how the modern dance techniques (Cunningham, Graham, Humphrey-Limon) have taken on a syncretic character over time. Jennifer Muller, who was a leading dancer in Limon's company during the 60s (before she and Louis Falco left to form the original Falco company), has said that the "pure" Limon technique is no longer taught; which I took to mean that the technique has taken on balletic accretions.

All that being said, I'm not surprised that ballet dancers are performing Chaconne, The Moor's Pavane and Mazurkas regularly. While the works aren't grounded in ballet technique, the nature of the movement is intelligible to ballet dancers and certainly Limon's musical choices -- Bach, Purcell and Chopin -- make the works accessible to ballet dancers and audiences. 

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Humphrey's concerns about ballet were more intellectual than emotional like Duncan's.  She certainly had whatever ballet training was available, first as a young woman in Oak Park, and then through the Denishawn school, but although she herself had a very lyrical style, she was not much of a fan.  I think the harmony we see now between these two disciplines is more a function of their fundamental qualities than it is about their creator's personal preferences.

 

Your point about Muller's comments (that "pure" Limon technique is not a part of curricula today) is as true as it is sad.  I think you lose something special about the works when the edges get rubbed off, so to speak.

 

 

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On ‎7‎/‎10‎/‎2017 at 0:25 PM, sandik said:

Your point about Muller's comments (that "pure" Limon technique is not a part of curricula today) is as true as it is sad.  I think you lose something special about the works when the edges get rubbed off, so to speak.

Even if you could recapture the "pure" technique (which, in any event, Limon himself always resisted codifying), the result still might not look the same with the repertory given how stretched bodies are these days.

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6 hours ago, miliosr said:

Even if you could recapture the "pure" technique (which, in any event, Limon himself always resisted codifying), the result still might not look the same with the repertory given how stretched bodies are these days.

 

True that -- the young man dancing the Chaconne this Sunday had lovely facility, which meant that the sense of struggle that always seemed a central core of Limon's work, wasn't as foregrounded.

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Croce from the turn-of-the-decade (70s-to-80s):

"Indifference to technique has played a part, along with the tremendous rise in popularity of ballet, in stamping out those technical and stylistic distinctions among companies which used to be the glory of American modern dance."

 

and

 

"In the companies that adhere to the older traditions, one sees either a modified style or a mottled one, with stylistic assertion, counterassertion, and patches of deadness all contending."

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From the latest Limon Foundation newsletter:

 

"In his second year as Artistic Director, Colin Connor continues to expand the Company’s already eclectic repertory by commissioning works from talented rising choreographers and giving them the opportunity to create work on the renowned Limón Dance Company. Connor chose Adam Barruch, Rosie Herrera, and Yin Yue for their strong evocative movement and their dynamic use of rhythm, gesture, and music. Their unique contemporary visions and commitment to socially conscious dance will carry our tradition forward, ensuring thought-provoking, powerful works that will resonate alongside the Limón classics."

 

Colin Connor is also choreographing a new work for the company's women. Based on Facebook and Instagram posts, the Limon repertory for 2017-18 looks like it will include The Moor's Pavane, Suite from A Choreographic Offering and The Unsung.

 

It does look like the old policy of first Ruth Currier and then Carla Maxwell of programming classics from the modern dance and even ballet repertories has gone by the wayside. That's a shame as the company had made very productive use of such revivals as Kurt Jooos' The Green Table, Lar Lubovitch's Concerto Six Twenty Two, Anna Sokolow's Rooms, Antony Tudor's Dark Elegies and the solos of Daniel Nagrin.

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On 9/21/2017 at 2:55 PM, miliosr said:

It does look like the old policy of first Ruth Currier and then Carla Maxwell of programming classics from the modern dance and even ballet repertories has gone by the wayside. That's a shame as the company had made very productive use of such revivals as Kurt Jooos' The Green Table, Lar Lubovitch's Concerto Six Twenty Two, Anna Sokolow's Rooms, Antony Tudor's Dark Elegies and the solos of Daniel Nagrin.

 

I agree that this is a pretty clear shift, but looking at your list here I'm struck with how few of these works are performed anywhere.  Lubovitch still maintains his own company, and ABT claims allegiance to Tudor, but the other works are pretty much orphans.

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Posted (edited)

I attended Program A of the Limon Dance Company's recent week of performances at the Joyce, which consisted of Jose Limon's Missa Brevis and The Unsung as well as Artistic Director Colin Connor's The Body Is a House Without Walls and Rosie Herrera's Querida Herida.

Since the two week 70th anniversary celebration in 2015, Colin Connor has replaced Carla Maxwell as AD and the company has seen major turnover in its ranks. Of the current 14 company members, only 4 participated in the 2015 festival. So I was curious to see what this new iteration of the company would look like under Connor's direction.

The first piece on Program A was Limon's The Unsung from 1970. This was Limon's tribute to legendary Native American chieftains. One of its most striking aspects is the absence of music. There is a score of sorts, though, provided courtesy of the dancers rhythmic footfalls and audible breathing.

Despite its theme, The Unsung has no explicit storyline. Instead, it consists of an opening group section followed by seven linked solos in which the men of the company embody 7 different chieftains. Limon intended The Unsung to be a tribute. But he also wanted to create a showcase for the extraordinary group of male dancers that had gathered around him in the late-60s. It remains true to both of those goals in 2018. The men of Limon, both in the opening group section and in their individual solos, harness a tremendous power which carries the work forward without a moment's flagging.

Two things struck me about The Unsung since the last time I saw it. FIrst, there is ample use of non-dance locomotion (i.e. Walking), which shows that Limon was more receptive to late-60s trends in modern dance than he is often given credit for. Second, Limon, who has no reputation for being interested in the "air," makes striking use of it here, especially in the 'Tecumseh' variation with Jesse Obremski.

I haven't seen The Unsung since the very first time I saw a Limon Dance Company program in 2004 (!) I thought it was a masterwork then and, seeing the latest iteration of the company perform it last week, I remain convinced that it remains a masterwork. Colin Connor's staging reveals that the Limon men have lost none of the work's power even though many of them were performing it for the first time.

More to come . . . 

Edited by miliosr

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Thanks as always for your thoughtful reports on the company!

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Posted (edited)

There was a brief pause between The Unsung and the next work on the program, Colin Connor's The Body Is a House Without Walls. Billed as a "professional" premiere (which I took to mean that Connor had staged it originally at the college level when he was a professor of dance), The Body Is a House Without Walls is a vehicle for six women in the Limon company. It begins with Brenna Monroe-Cook lying still in a red dress. The other five women (in white) gather around her and one of them (Logan Frances Krueger) cuts off the red dress with a pair of scissors to reveal Monroe-Cook also wearing white.

At first, I thought that the dance was heading to the same territory explored by Yoko Ono in Cut Piece. Instead, it evolves into a lyrical work involving the six women "welcoming" Monroe-Cook into some kind of after life. There are numerous duets between the women and there are even female-female lifts. (This represents an evolution in the Limon Company aesthetic which often had male-male duets (i.e. Between Limon and Lucas Hoving) but was much sparser in terms of female-female duets.) Having brought Monroe-Cook into this afterlife, the dance then concludes.

The best thing The Body Is a House Without Walls has going for it is its length. It is no longer than 10 minutes and does not betray its theme by overstaying its welcome. (Colin Connor may have remembered Doris Humphrey's admonishment: "All dances are too long.") The other thing it has going for it is that it is steeped in the Limon technique. Connor danced with the company in decades past and so he has a close familiarity with the technique. This helps to create a technical unity between The Body is a House Without Walls and The Unsung even though they are thematically different.

The weakness of The Body Is a House Without Walls is that it seems slight coming after the high gear The Unsung. (This is the same problem that Susanne Linke's all-female Extreme Beauty had back in 2004 when it had to follow The Unsung.) Still, Colin Connor fills a need with this piece by showing that the Limon Company has a continuing commitment to programming new work, even though that work appears washed out next to the heroic Limon style.

The Body Is a House Without Walls led into an intermission. More to come on the remainder of the program . . .

Edited by miliosr

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5 minutes ago, miliosr said:

"All dances are too long."

One of my favorite sayings!

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6 minutes ago, miliosr said:

Still, Colin Connor fills a need with this piece by showing that the Limon Company has a continuing commitment to programming new work, even though that work appears washed out next to the heroic Limon style.

And this is at the core of it for me -- I see a lot of new choreography over the course of a year, and for the last several years I've noticed that the general performing style is looser and less sculptural.  Movement is often kinetically engaging, but it isn't based in what Deborah Jowitt has called the "muscles in stress" style that the early moderns often used.  Part of this comes from a natural response (thesis/antithesis) to previous generations, part comes from the influence of release technique and contact improvisation on dance training, and part from the more polyglot nature of a performing career, but overall, the work made today (and the performance practices that go alongside it) are far less "dramatic" than the work of the foundational generations, which makes a repertory show like this one into a compare/contrast essay.

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For the 2017-18 season, Colin Connor commissioned three short duets from Adam Barruch, Rosie Herrera and Yin Yue. I saw the Herrera duet, Querida Herida, as part of Program A.

Opening up the second half of the program and set to pop songs by Los Javaloyas and Jose Feliciano, Querida Herida starts with Brenna Monroe-Cook and Jacqueline Bulnes embracing tightly in a sphere of light. My first thought was that Herrera might try to explore how much dance is possible within a highly limited space. But the dancers quickly part and the action shifts. Wearing long black dresses with red zippers, Monroe-Cook and Bulnes start unzipping the zippers to reveal spangly fabric (beneath Monroe-Cook's dress) and nude underwear (beneath Bulnes' dress). After this mildly diverting interlude, Monroe-Cook and Bulnes exit stage left and two red elastic strips (simulating the red zippers) appear at the back of the stage. Angela Falk appears as "the zipper" and moves back-and-forth as if opening and closing the zipper. (In reality, it's a device to kill time while Monroe-Cook and Bulnes are making a costume change offstage.) Once the "zipper" inanity comes to a merciful close, Monroe Cook and Bulnes return and the dance takes a more serious turn as the two women engage in a power contest of sorts. Bulnes emerges as the victor and, after 10 minutes, the dance concludes.

All I can say about this piece is that it should have been killed during its out-of-town tryout. Problem one is that it didn't know what it wanted to be. The three different sections didn't cohere at all. Problem two is that the middle "zipper" section was ridiculous and served no purpose other than to cover for a costume change. The third, final and most serious problem is that Querida Herida just looks ridiculous in the context of the rest of the repertory. Next to the heavy duty Limon pieces, Querida Herida is a trifle (and a poorly constructed trifle at that.) The comparison is all the more unflattering because Limon's dances are models of composition and structure.

The one thing of note about Querida Herida is that designer Bradon McDonald did the costumes (as he did for the dances by the other two choreographers.) Before he became a member of the Mark Morris troupe and long before he became a Project Runway contestant, McDonald was a late-90s member of the Limon company. So, nice to see that he still has an association with the company. Too bad his costumes couldn't have been in service to a better dance.

Up next: Missa Brevis

Edited by miliosr

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The fourth and final work on the bill was Limon's Missa Brevis, set to Zoltan Kodaly's Missa Brevis in Tempore Belli ("Short Mass in a Time of War"). Inspired by the Limon company's tour of Poland in 1957 and premiered in 1958, Missa was Limon's first attempt at large scale composition. The work has always been a mainstay of the repertory, and I saw it in 2009 and 2011 in a production staged and directed by Carla Maxwell and Sarah Stackhouse. (It was also given during the company's two-week Limon festival in NYC in 2015 as well.) The current production, however, is a new one staged by former company member Kristen Foote (2000-17), who appeared in it as well as a guest artist. (She was assisted by veteran Limon dancer and reconstructor Clay Taliaferro.)

Enjoyment of Missa depends in part on how receptive you are to dances set to religiously-themed music. (Arlene Croce, for instance, hated the whole genre and hated Missa.) But if you can get over that particular hurdle, Missa is a glorious work packed with movement invention and functions as a primer on both the Limon style and technique. Even though the current Limon company is a very young one and many of its current members have never danced in Missa before, there was no evident drop in performance level from the performances I saw in 2009 and 2011. Missa Brevis in live performance remains a feast of movement irrespective of how sympathetic the viewer is to the storyline of an outsider (the old Limon role, danced here by Mark Willis) set apart from a community.

If I had a quibble with the performance, it was in relation to the music. In 2009 and 2011, the Limon company performed the work with an organist and a live choir, which made for an overwhelming experience. In 2018, the company danced to a tape, which was both too loud and scratchy in parts. The overall effect, while still powerful, did not rise to the same level as the unfettered 2009 and 2011 performances. That being said, the new "contemporary" works by Colin Connor and (especially) Rosie Herrera can't help but look slight and enervated next to the full-blooded Missa. Weirdly, the new works appear more dated than Missa -- even though Missa is celebrating its 60th anniversary this year.

Up next: FInal thoughts

Edited by miliosr

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