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Jose Limon/Limon Dance Company

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Limon Dance Company performances for 2010-11:

09/29/10 -- Lecture/Demonstration w/ Lynn Garafola @ Baruch College Performing Arts Center, New York

09/30/10 -- Open rehearsal @ Baruch College Performing Arts Center, New York

Residency in Mexico

10/12/10 -- Showing of Jose Limon - A Life Beyond Words/Q&A w/ Limon Dance Company members, Mexico City

10/13/10 -- Showing of excerpts from The Unsung by Limon Dance Company workshop students, Culiacan, Mexico

10/15/10 -- Showing of excerpts from The Unsung by Limon Dance Company workshop students, Mexico City

10/13/10 -- Open rehearsal @ Joyce Soho, New York

10/23-10/24/10 -- Performances @ Choreographers of the 20th Century gala, Rome, Italy

11/02/10 -- Lecture about The Unsung @ the Americas Society, New York

11/11/10 -- Performance @ Casita Maria, New York

12/01/10 -- Lecture/demonstration @ the Americas Society, New York

12/08/10 -- Open rehearsal @ Joyce Soho, New York

12/14-12/15/10 -- Performances @ Baryshnikov Arts Center, New York

01/07-01/28/11 -- Residency @ Skidmore College, Saratoga Springs, NY

01/25/11 -- Lecture/demonstration of Clay Taliaferro's restaging of Limon's The Emperor Jones

01/28/11 -- Performance

02/10/11 -- Performance @ Flynn Theatre, Burlington, VT

03/22/11 -- Performance @ New York International Ballet Competition, Skirball Center, New York

03/23/11 -- Lecture/demonstration @ the Americas Society, New York

04/19/11 -- Lecture/demonstration @ the Americas Society, New York

Five Week Tour of Mexico

04/29/11 -- Performance @ Jose Limon Dance Festival - 25th Anniversary, Culiacan

05/01/11 -- Performance @ Jose Limon Dance Festival - 25th Anniversary, Mazatlan

05/14/11 -- Performance @ Teatro Hidalgo, Colima

05/18/11 -- Performance @ Festival de Mayo, Guadalajara

05/20/11 -- Performance @ Lagos de Morelos

05/24/11 -- Performance @ Teatro Julio Castillo, Mexico City

05/26/11 -- Performance @ Teatro Bicentario, Guanajuato

05/29/11 -- Performance @ San Luis Potosi

06/07-06/12/11 -- Performances @ John Jay College, New York

06/30/11 -- Lecture/demonstration @ Kaatsbaan, Tivoli, NY

07/10-07/29 -- Summer residency, SUNY-Brockport, NY

08/04/11 -- Lecture/demonstration @ Kaatsbaan, Tivoli, NY

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Alastair Macaulay has a nice appreciation of Mark Morris dancer Bradon McDonald, who gave his farewell performance with the Morris troupe recently, in today's Times:


Why am I putting this is in the Limon thread? Because Limon artistic director Carla Maxwell hired McDonald in 1997 when he was fresh out of Juilliard. He danced with Limon for three seasons before he decamped to Morris and I've read he was an outstanding Iago in The Moor's Pavane. Good luck to him in his future endeavors!

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For those of you in the San Jose, California area, the sjDANCEco (which is the successor troupe to Limon West) will be performing tomorrow night and Friday night. They will be performing Limon's There Is a Time (why is this all the rage lately?) and Limon's seldom-seen Waldstein Sonata from the early 1970s.

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The Limon Dance Company premiered Dances for Isadora on December 10, 1971. It was one of Jose Limon's last works before he died in 1972 and it consists of five evocations of Isadora Duncan as a person and a performer.

Using dance and dramatic mime, the five evocations -- "Primavera," "Maenad," "Niobe," "La Patrie," and "Scarf Dance" -- alternately depict Duncan performances (as imagined by Limon) or events from her life. The first two segments evoke what Duncan might have looked like as a performer while the third and fifth capture specific episodes from her life -- her reaction to the death of her children in a freak accident in 1913, and her own twilight and freakish death in 1927. The fourth segment exists in-between pure dance and biographical sketch by referencing her (rather naive) support for revolutionary causes of the period. (In this respect, Dances for Isadora occupies a middle ground between Frederick Ashton's Five Brahms Waltzes for Isadora Duncan [1975] and Kenneth MacMillan's Isadora [1981]. The former encapsulates Ashton's memories of seeing Duncan perform live while the latter tries to tell Duncan's life story through a mixture of dramatic mime and dancing.)

While the Limon company has maintained Dances for Isadora in repertory since Limon's death, they have performed it less than regularly, which leads me to believe that they do not consider it one of Limon's finest works. My only exposure to this work had been via an online video excerpt from 2004-06 featuring the first four evocations:


After having watched this video, my own take on Dances for Isadora was that it was (at best) mid-drawer Limon made more memorable than it actually was by the heightened dramatic expression the Limon dancers -- Kristen Foote, Ryoko Kudo, Kathryn Alter and Roxane D'Orleans Juste -- brought to the piece. But, as I believe that viewing dance works in a theater is greatly preferable to watching the same work on video, I welcomed the chance to see this work up close and personal recently in Michigan. As part of its 20th anniversary performances in Detroit, the Eisenhower Dance Ensemble (EDE) invited DDCDances (formerly Detroit Dance Collective), which has Dances for Isadora in its repertory, to perform this work as EDE's guests.

I was so looking forward to seeing this work in the flesh but, alas, the experience proved to be a series of disappointments. The first disappointment was that DDCDances only performed the first four evocations (billed as A Suite from Dances for Isadora.) This proved to be a crippling decision as the work only makes sense with all five evocations intact. Shorn of the dramatic finale of the "Scarf Dance," A Suite from Dances for Isadora had a beginning and a middle -- but no end. It just stopped -- to a justifiably baffled reaction from the audience.

Worse was to come. As a performing unit, DDCDances displayed a shocking lack of gravity (pun intended) regarding both the physical and dramatic needs of the dance. It was bad Limon technique and bad Duncan dramatization rolled into one. The dancers in "Primavera," "Maenad," and "La Patrie" only skimmed the emotional surface of these Duncan evocations and their understanding and implementation of Limon's emphasis on weightedness was next to nil -- they danced in a pretty but paper-thin manner that is the antithesis of Limon (and Duncan, for that matter.)

"Niobe" was the real disaster, though. This is my favorite segment from the Limon video and was the worst one on the night in Detroit. The older dancer performing this segment couldn't clasp her hands beyond her back or manage the footwork during the frenzied spins and the result was flat and affectless when it should have been gut-wrenching. One would never have known that Isadora was supposed to be spinning in a frenzy because of the death of her children.

A Suite from Dances for Isadora was pretty much a disaster and only got perfunctory applause -- more than it deserved. What went wrong? I have three theories: The work is modest to begin with, the staging was wrong or destructive, or the performing troupe just wasn't up to the dramtic and technical demands of the piece. Of the three theories, I am most willing to discount the second, as the stager -- longtime Limon company member Nina Watt -- staged a suite from Limon's A Choreographic Offering for a university company that I saw which was wonderful. My suspicion is that the true culprit was the combination of an average work and a troupe that made the work seem even less significant than it actually is.

I would welcome the chance to see the Limon company itself perform this work so I could get a definitive read on it. But until that day, alas, Dances for Isadora has now replaced The Traitor as my least favorite Jose Limon work.

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it's 2011 already and I'm just getting around to you thanking for this, Miliosr -- but you're right on the money, and Macaulay is ALSO very good on McDoanald. i remember seeing him with the Limon company, wonderful performances, and beautifully sculpted, powerful things they were -- he brought this Limonesque cleanness and strength with him to hte Morris company, along with the musicality that Limon's work required, and created a kind of monumental image in hte new repertoire that balanced against the equally monumental but perhaps more balletic work of Lauren grant and David Lowenthal....

Actually, that's not quite right -- I've seen hte Limon company do a monumental performance of Tudor's "Dark Elegies," than which no ballet company nowadays could do a better version. But what I should say is that MacDOnald could bring that weight and grandeur of old modern dance to the MM company that was incredibly valuable as a bass note, against the much lighter ways of dancing that belong to so many others of the company. It's fascinating to see how many valid ways of dancing there are within the Morris company -- it's rather like an orchestra, the mix is so full of variety of tone.

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From the latest Limon newsletter:

To celebrate our shared legacy, the Jose Limon Dance Foundation is inviting professional dance companies throughout Mexico to mount Limon works during the 2011-12 season.

For the occasion we are offering the work with a greatly reduced licensing fee, in hopes that Limon's choreography will be seen all over the country, performed by Mexican dancers these sixty years after Limon created original work for them.

Among the available works are ensemble pieces with featured solo roles, such as The Winged, There Is a Time, and Psalm, as well as chamber works, including The Moor's Pavane, The Exiles and Orfeo. Limon choreographed several dances for all male casts, including The Traitor, the Unsung, and The Emperor Jones. Among his dances on Mexican themes are La Malinche, Chaconne, and Carlota.


I think it's lovely that the foundation is commemorating the time Limon spent in Mexico in 1951 creating works for Mexican dancers. It's a pity, though, that none of the works he actually created that year -- Los Cuatro Soles, Tonantzintla, Dialogues, Antigona and Redes -- appear to have survived. (Limon did recast portions of Dialogues in 1972's Carlota, though.)

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An excerpt from Tim Martin's Dance Europe review of recent Limon Dance Company performances of Jiri Kylian's La Cathedrale Engloutie:

Not long after this preview [of La Cathedrale Engloutie], the company performed the work. It's an atmospheric piece best suited to a formal proscenium space where the moody lighting and constant sound of rolling waves can engulf us in their illusion. Despite this show's studio theatre setting (no wings, exposed lighting instruments) this performance still mesmerised. [Logan] Kruger and [Kristen] Foote were joined by partners Durell Comedy and Dante Puleio, making a polished quartet that clearly reflected the benefit of [stager Jeanne] Solan's expertise - frequent changes of level were smooth, as were all the on-the-floor locomotions, the knee spins and kneeling lunges.

It's reassuring to see the Limon Company shine in dances by other choreographers - this approach will ensure a long life to the troupe and therefore secure the continued custodianship of Limon's own works.

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Some odds&ends . . .

Articles about the recently-completed Skidmore College residency:



Upcoming event w/ sjDANCEco (the Limon Company's West Coast spinoff):


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I was reading an old issue of Dance Magazine and came across an interesting Limon Dance Company/Erik Bruhn news item.

Bruhn had appeared with the Limon company (as The Moor in Limon's The Moor's Pavane) in early 1978. For the company's performances in New York at the end of that year, acting artistic director Carla Maxwell invited Bruhn to join the company to perform the following (according to Dance Magazine):

The Moor in The Moor's Pavane

The Leader in Limon's The Traitor

A 13-minute solo titled Suite for Erik. (Created for Bruhn by Murray Louis when the former had to drop out of a work called Figura which Louis was creating for the company.)

It all came to naught because Bruhn had to drop out of the entire season due to a neck injury. Whatever became of Suite for Erik? Did Louis recycle it and give it a new name??

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I've been reading the November 1957 issue of UK dance magazine Dance and Dancers, which contains a long Clive Barnes review of the Limon company's performances in London. The review is interesting for a lot of reasons (including Barnes' reports of general English resistance to the Humphrey/Limon variant of modern dance.) But what was most interesting to me was how much repertory the company could mount in those days, particularly the Humphrey repertory (which is rarely seen anymore at Limon):

Humphrey -- New Dance(1935), Lament for Ignacio Sanchez Meijas (1946), Day on Earth (1947), Night Spell (1951), Ruins and Visions (1952), Ritmo Jondo (1953), Dance Overture (1957)

Limon -- Concerto Grosso in D Minor (1945), La Malinche (1949), The Moor's Pavane (1949), The Traitor (1954), There Is a Time (1956), Emperor Jones (1956)

Pauline Koner -- Concertino in A Major

Lucas Hoving and Lavinia Nielsen -- Satyros

Time has been much kinder to Limon than it has to Humphrey. 3 of the 6 Limon pieces from this tour will be featured at the company's upcominng NYC performances and two others are in current repertory. Only "Concerto Gross" appears to have fallen by the wayside. Meanwhile, no Humphrey pieces will be performed at the NYC dates.

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I went to see the Limon Company last night at John Jay college. I really enjoyed it. The dancers are terrific - musical, great movement quality and very human looking. There was There is a Time & The Emperor Jones - both old Limon pieces that reminded me how wonderfully he structured things.

The middle piece was called Chrysalis. Choreography by Jonathan Fredrickson and music composed for the piece by Marcos Galvany. I loved it. (Mr. Millepied please watch and learn).

It is a piece for 6 women - well structured, very well danced, exciting music, quite dramatic and open to interpretation. Reading the title of the piece gave me one idea, reading in the program the inspiration for the piece gave me another.

The live musicians were wonderful.

Funny thing being an aging dance goer. We were given surveys to fill out which asked if we had ever seen the Limon Company before. I thought I saw the company a long time ago. It's very likely that I saw the company before any of the current dancers were born!

Seeing Limon's choreography made me wish ABT would do the Moor's Pavane.

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Seeing Limon's choreography made me wish ABT would do the Moor's Pavane.

I agree. It's a pity that Jose Manuel Carreno never got to dance it because he would have brought just the right amount of tragedy to the role. Here's hoping that Marcelo Gomes gets to dance it at ABT before he retires.

I attended Program A (There Is a Time/Chrysalis/The Emperor Jones) on Friday (06/10) and Program C (La Cathedrale Engloutie/The Emperor Jones/Missa Brevis) on Saturday (06/11). Full reviews to follow.

Until then, Mary Cargill reviews Program A in danceviewtimes:


And Claudia La Rocco reviews Program B in the New York Times:


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I attended Program A (There Is a Time/Chrysalis/The Emperor Jones) on Friday (06/10) and Program C (La Cathedrale Engloutie/The Emperor Jones/Missa Brevis) on Saturday (06/11). Full reviews to follow.

I look forward to your thoughts. I thought the quality of the dancers quite high.

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I look forward to your thoughts.

Me to !!! I'm especially interested to hear what you think about The Emperor Jones. Mary Cargill's review in danceviewtimes refers to The Moor's Pavane, which also tries to distill a long and complicated theatrical work into an intensely focused, relatively short dance piece. Many of us have seen Moor's Pavane, but I hadn't even heard of The Emperor Jones.
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June 10, 2011

Gerald W. Lynch Theater

John Jay College

There Is a Time (Jose Limon/1956)

Chrysalis (Jonathan Fredrickson/2010)

The Emperor Jones (Jose Limon/1956)

The Limon Dance Company's recent week-long performances in New York were its last performances in New York prior to the company's 65th anniversary season in 2011-12. (The Limon company is the second-oldest modern dance company in the United States [after the Graham company], the oldest in terms of no missed seasons, and the first [of only a handful] to survive the death of its founder.)

One of the great pleasures of seeing the company this week came not from the dancers but from the audience. What a pleasure it was to attend a performance where the audience was reflective of the population as it exists on the streets surrounding John Jay College! How proud would Jose Limon be to see his idea of dance theater attracting such a diverse audience!! (Quite a difference, I must say, from the disgracefully homogenous audience I saw at the New York City Ballet the following day.)

As an added treat, Betty Jones (one of Limon's original company members in the 1940s) was in the audience on Friday night. I didn't have the nerve to approach her but I must say she looks fantastic for a woman who must be well into her 80s at this point.

There Is a Time

I've had odd luck with There Is a Time in the past. Either I was sick as a dog on the night (2008), the version I saw was a suite version (2009), or the version I saw occurred in a less than optimal performing space (2010). Finally, on Friday night, none of those conditions applied and I was able to see There Is a Time as it was meant to be seen: complete, performed on a proper stage and me, the viewer, being in good health.

There Is a Time, of course, is Limon's meditation on Ecclesiastes. Using circles as a crucial motif, Limon created numerous variations which he used to illustrate the contrasting verses of Ecclesiastes (i.e. 'A time to mourn'/'A time to laugh'.) As a story ballet (of sorts), I've always been neutral to There Is a Time and was so again on Friday night. But as an excercise in the use of circles as a dance motif, this dance hit me with full force on my fourth go-round. Limon was ingenious in how he used circles in this dance. Not only are there those beautiful full-company opening and closing circles but also numerous smaller circles in which the dancers themselves rotate their heads and/or torsos in circular movements while dancing in a larger circle. So, so clever!

As for the actual performance, I thought it took awhile to get going on the night. There Is a Time only really hit its stride when the more senior dancers -- Raphael Boumaila in 'A time to speak' and Kristen Foote in 'A time to laugh' -- jump-started it to life. After that, the company and the dance carried on at a chipper pace to the concluding circle.

My only other quibble with the performance -- and this carried over to other performances during the run as well -- was with the uneven deployment of Limon technique among the company members. While the dancers are splendid and convey the impression that they can dance just about anything, I did notice that some company members were utilizing the technique more fully than others. The dancers who have been with the company ten years or more -- Boumaila (especially), Foote and Francisco Ruvalcaba -- articulated those quintessential Limon falls and rebounds in a way that I didn't always see with the more junior company members. This is perfectly understandable as Boumaila, Foote and Ruvalcaba have obviously internalized the technique and the style to such a degree that they can manifest Limon's theatrical intentions to the maximum possible degree. Hopefully, in time, the newer company members (and there are a fair amount of them due to recent turnover) will master the technique and the style more fully in coming seasons.


Doris Humphrey famously remarked that, "All dances are too long." Certainly, that was the case with former company member Jonathan Fredrickson's Chrysalis. (Fredrickson left the company in February to join Hubbard Street Dance in Chicago.)

Set to a commissioned score by Marcos Galvany, Chrysalis tells the tale of five women who are engaged in some kind of ritual. One of the five (dancer Belinda McGuire) separates herself from (or becomes separated from) the rest of the group, and engages in a long solo of self-discovery. Eventually, she reunites with the group but she is forever separated from them by what appears to be some kind of elevated status.

To me, Chrysalis was an honorable failure. As a young choreographer, Fredrickson proved that he knows how to deploy bodies in space. In addition, he also showed that Limon technique is a living thing, and can be utilized in a "contemporary" way rather than in its more commonly seen "classical" manner.

That being said, I thought the entire dance was too long. By the time McGuire finished her voyage of self-discovery, I didn't really care what she discovered about herself. To my mind, the mistake Fredrickson made was in thinking that he had to use all of Galvany's score rather than utilizing parts of it. With more judicious cherry-picking of the score (and consequent trimming of the dance), the piece could breathe more fully in the future -- I hope Fredrickson keeps working on it.

Finally, I can't say enough good things about Galvany's score. Conducted by Limon company musical director David La Marche and performed by a small chamber group, it was driving but tonal. I was ambivalent about the dance but greatly enjoyed the music.

The Emperor Jones

The Emperor Jones is Jose Limon's redaction of Eugene O'Neill's play of the same name. Like his much more famous The Moor's Pavane, Limon's Emperor Jones is not meant to be a scene-by-scene reenactment of the play. Instead, Limon focuses on the disintegrating mind of Jones through a series of episodes, some of which occur in real time and some of which occur in flashback.

During the lifespan of this dance (55 years), only Limon and his hand-picked successor, Clay Taliaferro, ever danced the part of The Emperor. The dance was out of repertory for 25 years until Taliaferro staged it this year for the company. Daniel Fetecua Soto is now only the third person to ever essay the part of Jones, and his casting was one of the best things about this revival. Unlike Limon (who was well over six feet tall) and Taliaferro (who is in the 6'5" range), Fetecua Soto is not particularly tall. Nevertheless, he dominated the stage with great forcefulness and charisma. He is also a physical dynamo and he achieved some spectacular physical effects, including a stunning sequence where he was like a gymnast on a pommel horse except he was on his back.

As for the dance itself, I must confess that some of it baffled me the first night. To me, the most obscure part of the dance occured in real time when the mysterious Trader/Man in White engaged in a dance duel of sorts with the Emperor. Having not read O'Neill's play or seen a production of it, I was puzzled by this encounter, which was obviously meant to be the central determining event of the dance. But why was this so? Why did this encounter cause the Emperor to become unhinged, and to relive episodes from his past?

I've written on this board before about how choreographers who base dances on literary or historical sources can sometimes fall into the trap of thinking that the dance is conveying essential information from the source material when, in fact, the choreographer is using the viewer's familiarity with the material to fill in the gaps. Limon's The Traitor has a bit of this problem, Kenneth MacMillan's Romeo and Juliet has it to a greater degree, and Martha Graham's Clytaemnestra has this problem full-blown. Leaving the theater after the performance, I couldn't help but think that The Emperor Jones has this same problem. Unlike Limon's The Moor's Pavane, I thought, it might not have a life independent of its source. I went to bed that night pondering what I had seen but grateful that I would have the opportunity to see it again the following night.

All told, it was an interesting night of dance theater. I would be lying if I said it was my best ever encounter with the Limon Dance Company. Still, as I walked back to my hotel after the show, I was thankful that this little jewel box of a company has survived lo these many years after its founding, and that Limon's works still exist in faithful renderings for present-day audiences to enjoy.

Coming next: My review of the Saturday show

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It's great to read your review, miliosr. As a fan of Moor's Pavane and someone who is especially curious about what Limon could possibly do with The Emperor Jones, I was especially interested in the following:

I've written on this board before about how choreographers who base dances on literary or historical sources can sometimes fall into the trap of thinking that the dance is conveying essential information from the source material when, in fact, the choreographer is using the viewer's familiarity with the material to fill in the gaps. Limon's The Traitor has a bit of this problem, Kenneth MacMillan's Romeo and Juliet has it to a greater degree, and Martha Graham's Clytaemnestra has this problem full-blown. Leaving the theater after the performance, I couldn't help but think that The Emperor Jones has this same problem. Unlike Limon's The Moor's Pavane, I thought, it might not have a life independent of its source

Moor's Pavane does indeed have a life "independent of its source." The menage a quatre on stage speaks, even in the silent world of dance, for itself.

Emperor Jones, which I've only seen in the Paul Robeson film, has a plot almost as convoluted as the full Othello. I can't for the life of me figure out how to reduce it to something simple. There are so many elements: extreme ups and downs of fortune, at least two essential settings, sex, power, corruption, African cultural influences, a terrifying jungle -- culminating in a mad scene and death.

It has of course a bravura part for the lead male actor-dancer. (I know that Limon himself danced the part.) But ... how on earth did he compress the story into 20 or 30 minutes?

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June 11, 2011

Gerald W. Lynch Theater

John Jay College

La Cathedrale Engloutie (Jiri Kylian/1975)

The Emperor Jones (Jose Limon/1956)

Missa Brevis (Jose Limon/1958)

The Limon Dance Company's Saturday night performance was also a virtual reunion of the last iteration of Jose Limon's company before he died in 1972. In addition to current artistic director Carla Maxwell (her 33rd year in the post -- longer than Doris Humphrey, Jose Limon and Ruth Currier combined), I spotted Limon master stagers/teachers Gary Masters, Clay Taliaferro and Nina Watt.

La Cathedrale Engloutie

Since assuming the directorship of Limon in 1978, Carla Maxwell has followed a policy of programming compatible dances from the modern dance repertory to supplement its Limon dances. The company has danced this work before and revived it this season with the help of former Nederlands Dans Theater dancer Jeanne Solan, who danced in the original production.

La Cathedrale Engloutie takes its inspiration from a 5th century legend of a cathedral that disappears beneath the sea and then reappears to certain chosen individuals. The dance's score is a hybrid of surf sounds and music by Debussy, which itself was inspired by the legend.

The dance is bookended by the disappearance and reappearance of the cathedral. The main part of the dance, however, consists of a series of duets beginning with two male-female couples and moving through a male-male duet and a female-female duet. Kylian creates some astonishing physical effects with this dance and the four featured dancers kept pace with Kylian's strenuous demands.

My complaint, though, is two-fold. At times, the movement was Euro-dance at its worst -- more gymnastics than dance. Furthermore, I did not find that the main part of the dance had much connection to its stated theme. (Certainly, the rather pretentious program notes were of no help.) The main part of the dance could have been about anything rather than the purported theme.

La Cathedrale Engloutie was by no means a disappointment. But its appeal stemmed largely from the dancers themselves, who proved with this that they could go toe-to-toe with dancers from any modern dance company in the world.

The Emperor Jones

My second exposure to The Emperor Jones was a happier experience than the first night's experience was. While I was no less puzzled by the central "duet" between the Emperor and the Trader/Man in White, I did not stress about this on the second night and instead accepted it as the defining event of the dance from which all else flows. Having got past that hurdle, I could enjoy the various episodes/flashbacks which constitute the Emperor's mental disintegration. And what marvelous episodes they are! They include a chain gang, a slave auction, a murder and an African ritual. The Limon men were outstanding in these sections, which are an interesting combination of dance and pantomimic theater.

The Emperor Jones will probably never be one of my favorite Limon pieces. It shares with Limon's The Traitor the flaw of needing familiarity with the source material to render the dance intelligible. Still, it's worth preserving for no other reason than it shows off the Limon men to such powerful effect.

Missa Brevis

Missa Brevis is Jose Limon's "dance Mass" set to Zoltan Kodaly's Missa Brevis in Tempore Belli. Since the dance requires 23 dancers and the Limon company only consists of 12-15 dancers at any one time, Carla Maxwell has implemented the Missa Brevis Project, which allows the company to take on dancers from the communities in which it is appearing in order to bring Missa Brevis to life.

For its recent five-week Mexican tour, the company took on dancers from Mexico and these dancers travelled to New York for the company's New York performances. In her New York Times review, Claudia Lo Rocco was absolutely right to single out the Mexican dancers for the diversity of body type and (I would add) ethnicity they brought to an already diverse company. (New York City Ballet take note.) To me, the Mexican dancers were one of the highlights of the season.

As for the performance itself, it wasn't as good as the one I saw in 2009. There were two reasons for this. First, the John Jay College stage was too small for Missa Brevis. The dancers looked like they were cramped and holding something back lest they throttle their immediate neighbor on-stage. The second problem was the absence of live music, which makes all the difference for Missa Brevis. A full choir singing Kodaly's Mass is powerful in its own right and brings something out of the dancers that no tape can achieve.

As a result of these two problems, Missa Brevis swung the dancers more than the dancers swung Missa Brevis. But what a testament to Limon's invention that the dance can survive and even triumph in the face of adverse conditions. There were some absolutely beautiful sequences, including circles of dancers dissolving into stunning individual spirals and dancer Kathryn Alter spinning like a top which was then picked up by Francisco Ruvalcaba. The Moor's Pavane is often spoken of as Limon's masterpiece but, to my mind, Missa Brevis may deserve that honor.

Whatever mild criticisms I may have of the dancing and the repertory, I must say that, on the whole, the company looks like it is in strong shape as it heads into its 65th anniversary season. My hope for 2011-12 is that the company revives Limon's Missa Brevis (with live music and a bigger stage), A Choreographic Offering (the rarely seen complete version), The Winged, The Unsung and Carlota. But regardless of what the repertory will be, who would have guessed that Jose Limon's little chamber company from 1946 would endure to this very day?

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It seems a shame that relatively few people now have the opportunity to see Limon's work. Your discussion of Missa Brevis, and the inclusion of what I assume to be freelance Mexican dancers, made me suggests that some of his works can be danced effectively by dancers with other kinds of training.

Are any of the Limon works you've seen recently good possibilties for other companies? I can imagine a couple of companies which might lke to try Emperor Jones.

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Emperor Jones, which I've only seen in the Paul Robeson film, has a plot almost as convoluted as the full Othello. I can't for the life of me figure out how to reduce it to something simple. There are so many elements: extreme ups and downs of fortune, at least two essential settings, sex, power, corruption, African cultural influences, a terrifying jungle -- culminating in a mad scene and death.

But ... how on earth did he compress the story into 20 or 30 minutes?

Based on what I saw, I'm not sure Limon solved entirely the problem of reducing the O'Neill play into a compressed dance drama. Strangely enough, the Emperor's flashbacks are more clear-cut and intelligible than those segments (the duet between the Emperor and the Trader, the Emperor's panicked journey through a "jungle") which occur in present time.

To his credit, Limon only wrote very short program notes for The Emperor Jones. He laid out his intentions in brief and then let the dance rise or fall on its merits. (This unlike Martha Graham's program notes for Clytaemnestra, which covered a page-and-a-half of an 8x10 program and still weren't able to make the dance comprehensible.)

During the 1940s and 1950s, Limon and Graham made many dances based on historical or literary sources. When they made these dances, they must have taken for granted they were dealing with a literate audience that was familiar with the source materials. Therefore, neither one felt it necessary to spell out the nuances in the source materials.

The trouble today, however, is that you are not necessarily dealing with a dance audience that is particularly familiar with literature or history. This is especially true for The Emperor Jones, which is rarely performed today due to its problematic language.

I wouldn't call Limon's Emperor Jones a failure. But I wouldn't call it a success either. To me, it occupies a netherworld between the two. An interesting experiment, maybe???

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