On opening night of the Límon Dance Company at The Joyce Theater, May 29, 2019, the highlight was “The Moor’s Pavane,” choreographed in 1949 by José Límon. It continues to be an exquisite masterwork, wordlessly conveying all the plot, characterization and drama of Shakespeare’s tragedy, Othello, using the convention of the pavane, a formal court dance for two couples. It is set to the music of Baroque composer, Henry Purcell (arranged by Simon Sadoff), with lovely costumes designed by Pauline Lawrence evoking the fashionably heavy fabrics of the time, but allowing the dancers to move.
Límon’s signature piece deserves to be seen – not just for its historic significance, but because it’s an extraordinary choreographic gem. Lean and powerful, it stands the test of time. The current dancers (The Moor: Mark Willis; His Friend: Jesse Obremski; His Friend’s Wife: Jacqueline Bulnes; The Moor’s Wife: Savannah Spratt) perform it beautifully, with strength and dramatic clarity. Because The Joyce Theater is so small, it’s possible to appreciate the details of Limon’s choreography, and so you should take this opportunity to see one of the great pieces of modern dance.
In its New York premiere, Colin Connor’s “The Weather in the Room” with music by Canadian composer Sarah Sugarman is a new work on the program. Mature guest artists Miki Orihara and Stephen Pier are a couple whose movement is full of conversational gestures while a group of dancers behind them suggest how things are going with their relationship. “The Weather” is performed by the excellent dancers: Terrence D. M. Diable, Mariah Gravelin, Gregory Hamilton, Eric Parra, Frances Samson and Lauren Twomley. Interesting group choreography, clever use of props and strong performances make this an enjoyable work. And it’s good to see an intergenerational composition in which older dancers have an opportunity to perform.
Having its world premiere, “Radical Beasts in the Forest of Possibilities” is a collaboration of choreographer Francesca Harper with iconic composer/performer Nona Hendryx and the dancers. Hendryx performs live on piano, along with digitally recorded sounds and music (the piano sections are more satisfying than the digital ones). The costumes by Epperson are made up of layered fabric that suggest a ragged look which is appropriate to the theme described in the program about reaching for contact in a world where time is fractured. The hardworking dancers include Jacqueline Bulnes, Terrence D. M. Diable, Mariah Gravelin, David Glista, Jesse Obremski, Frances Samson, Lauren Twomley and Mark Willis.
The final work on the program is another Límon piece, “Psalm,” which was reconstructed by Carla Maxwell, the company’s Artistic Director, with a new score by Jon Magnussen and costumes by Marion Williams (which are grey with surprising glimpses of the lining, bright red or turquoise blue). Incorporating Hebrew chants, the music has the compelling ritualistic sound reminiscent of, for instance, Stravinsky’s “Les Noces.” Based on the ancient Jewish belief that all the sorrows of the world rest on 36 men, here they are represented by one man surrounded by his community. (The Just Man: David Glista; Expiatory Figures: Savannah Spratt, Frances Samson; Psalmists: The Company) The group dynamic was most interesting, danced by a company of strong dancers who are very well trained, and clearly committed to the work.
Over all, the program is a nice balance of work by contemporary choreographers along with re-staging of Límon’s choreography. The current company is made up of excellent dancers, although it might be suggested that the women outshine the men when it comes to stage presence, generally speaking (with exceptions, of course, like Jesse Obremski). The Límon Dance Company and The José Límon Dance Foundation should be applauded for its work as a repository of important modern dance choreography and a platform for new works. The Joyce Theater is the perfect venue to see the current incarnation of the company.
Límon Dance Company (May 29 – June 2, 2019)
The Joyce Theater, 175 Eighth Avenue, in Manhattan
For tickets, call 212-242-0800 or visit http://www.thejoyce.org
Running time: two hours and 30 minutes including one intermission