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The Limón Dance Company (Spring 2022)

Marking its 75th anniversary, a modern dance giant’s company continues to grow while honoring its founders.

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The Limón Dance Company in a scene from Doris Humphrey’s “Air for the G String” at the Joyce Theater (Photo credit: Christopher Jones)

Joel Benjamin

Joel Benjamin, Critic

Celebrating its 75th Anniversary, the Limón Dance Company, founded by modern dance giants Doris Humphrey and José Limón, is in the middle of a two-week season showing off its modern dance bonafides in two programs with works spanning from 1928 to the present.  Artistic Director Dante Puleio is keeping the troupe in great shape.

“Air for the G String,” Doris Humphrey’s work to Bach, was the 1928 work that opened the program.  This work, with its five women dancers in flowing robes, is a serene response to this famous music.  Led by Frances Lorraine Samson, the dancers stepped elegantly about the stage constantly rearranging their long, diaphanous robes—originally designed by Pauline Lawrence and rebuilt by Ali Lane—into intricate, sculptural designs, aided by the subtle lighting of Al Crawford.

Does “Air” have religious overtones?  Perhaps.  Is it meaningful that Samson’s under tunic is blue, the color used to portray the Virgin Mary in Renaissance paintings?  “Air” certainly does transport the audience into a quiet, contemplative place.

(For those interested in actually seeing Doris Humphrey, there is a historic Youtube video of Ms. Humphrey performing “Air for the G String” with dancers from the Humphrey-Weidman Dance Company.)

The Limón Dance Company in a scene from José Limón’s “Psalm” with Nicholas Ruscica (front) at the Joyce Theater (Photo credit: Christopher Jones)

“Psalm,” Limón’s final finished work from 1967, pitted a heroic figure, the Burden Bearer, a strong, charismatic Nicholas Ruscica, against an alternately supportive and antagonistic group, the Limón dancers enhanced with dancers from the junior company, Limón2.  Mariah Gravelin, Savannah Spratt and Lauren Twomley played Expiatory Figures, a Greek chorus that sometimes guided the Burden Bearer and sometimes protected him.

Wearing Marión Talán de la Rosa’s pale, layered costumes, the dancers swirled about the stage to Eugene Lester’s taut score which used a Hebrew text that made many references to concentration camps.  Limón’s familiar choreographic go-to’s were evident: circle formations of dancers that devolved into solos and a skittering step high on the toes that transported the dancers lightly across the stage.

The Burden Bearer was put through his paces, finally emerging triumphant, backed by the rest of the cast who gathered around him at the end.

The second Limón work was the solo “Chaconne” (1942), set to a J.S. Bach solo violin work played with style and vigor on stage by Johnny Gandelsman.  Guest performer Shayla-Vie Jenkins dressed in a white shirt and tight black pants (no costume credit offered) was hypnotic in her movements, finding drama in a work that, according to the program’s narrator, Limón had great difficulty choreographing.

The resulting work is a series of elegant movement phrases, some repeated several times, that added up to a calm, stately reaction to the music combining simple walks, poses and arms that hinted at Spanish dance.  Jenkins spun the disparate elements of Limón’s creation into a smooth dance that both followed and commented on Bach’s score.

The Limón Dance Company in a scene from Olivier Tarpaga’s “Only One Will Rise” with Savannah Spratt, MJ Edwards and B. Woods at the Joyce Theater (Photo credit: Christopher Jones)

The final work was the world premiere of “Only One Will Rise,” a work by a new choreographer Olivier Tarpaga to a colorful score he co-wrote with Tim Motzer who was one of the three on stage musicians.  Daniel Johnson and Saidou Sangare were the others.

“Only One Will Rise” used a large cast that Tarpaga handled adroitly, shooting groups across the stage in interesting patterns, eventually focusing on several soloists who appeared angst-ridden.  His movement themes were decidedly Limón influenced with the addition of sensual twists and undulations taken from African ethnic folk dance, movements that the Limón troupe performed beautifully, wringing a myriad of emotions from these departures from their home base technique.

Behind the dancers Michael Clark’s projections of trees and then abstract designs took focus away from the choreography.  Cyril Givort’s moody lighting helped enormously as did Talán de la Rosa’s pale, flowing costumes.

The Limón Dance Company in a scene from Olivier Tarpaga’s “Only One Will Rise” with Johnson Guo, Nicholas Ruscica and Lauren Twomley at the Joyce Theater (Photo credit: Christopher Jones)

The program was held together by a narration delivered by smooth-voiced Dion Mucciacito who told of the young Mexican, Limón, who came to the United States to study painting.  His studies were derailed when he happened to see a performance by famed German modern dance artist Harold Kreutzberg. Eventually guided by Doris Humphrey he became a dancer of rare presence and a choreographer of the highest order.

We are lucky to be able to see the fruits of his labors at the Joyce Theater.

The Limón Dance Company (April 19 – May 1, 2022)

Program 1: April 19 – 24; Program 2: April 26 – May 1

Joyce Theater, 175 Eighth Avenue, in Manhattan

For tickets, call 212-242-0800 or visit http://www.Joyce.org

Running time:  one hour and 40 minutes including one intermission

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Joel Benjamin
About Joel Benjamin (440 Articles)
JOEL BENJAMIN was a child performer on Broadway and danced with leading modern dance and ballet companies. Joel has been attending theater, ballet and opera performances ever since childhood, becoming quite opinionated over the years. He was the founder and artistic director of the American Chamber Ballet and subsequently was massage therapist to the stars before becoming a reviewer and memoirist. He is a member of the Outer Critics Circle.

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