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Limon Dance Company

‘Concerto Six Twenty-Two’, ‘The Moor’s Pavane’, ‘Missa Brevis’

September 2006
Maryland, Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center

by Oksana Khadarina



© Scott Groler
& Clarice Smith Center

'Concerto Six Twenty-Two' reviews

'Missa Brevis' reviews

Limon 'Moor's Pavane' reviews

'Moor's Pavane' reviews

Juste in reviews

Ruvalcaba in reviews

recent Limon reviews

more Oksana Khadarina reviews




I believe that we are never more truly and profoundly human than when we dance,” proclaimed José Limón (1908-1972), one of the greatest dancers and choreographers of the 20th century and a pioneer of American modern dance. The dancers of the Limón Dance Company, which he co-founded with Doris Humphrey (his teacher and mentor) in 1946, demonstrated the credibility of his words in their spectacular performance at the Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center at Maryland.

The Limón Dance Company, among the oldest modern dance groups in America, is celebrating its 60th anniversary looking stronger then ever. Carla Maxwell, its current artistic director, not only preserves and promotes Limón’s choreographic legacy but also enriches the company’s repertoire with some of the finest works of contemporary choreographers. In a three-dance program presented on Friday, September 15, the troupe paid tribute to its founder, presenting two of his most famous dances: The Moor’s Pavane and Missa Brevis; and Concerto Six Twenty-Two, an eminent contemporary work created by Lar Lubovitch.

The joyful melodies of Mozart’s Concerto for Clarinet and Orchestra inspired the prominent American choreographer Lar Lubovitch in creating Concerto Six Twenty-Two (1986), an uplifting, radiant dance which was performed by the entire company as a curtain opener. Dressed in white sexy costumes, the dancers are caught up in exuberant high-energy exercise as an ensemble; their swirling circle then breaks apart in a series of mini-dances by soloists, duets, and trios. The Lubovitch’s choreographic pallet is an imaginative mélange of sophisticated, elegant movements with simple, comical steps. As such, the production is sheer fun and entertainment. Performed with vigor and excitement, the dance set a great mood for the evening.
 


Francisco Ruvalcaba (kneeling) as The Moor and Brenna Monroe Cook (prone) as The Moor's Wife in The Moor's Pavane
© Rosalie O'Connor & Clarice Smith Center


The Moor’s Pavane or Variations on Theme of Othello, Limón’s signature work was a centerpiece of the program. Created in 1949 and premiered the same year with the choreographer himself in the role of Othello at the American Dance Festival, the production became a classic of modern dance repertoire. “There is a dance for every single human expression,” Limón used to say. To him, dance was “a vision of ineffable power,” a way of expressing human emotion and spirituality. His unique choreographic style is renowned for its powerful dramatic content and captivating theatricality.

In this 20-minute dance-spectacle set to a musical score by the English Baroque composer Henry Purcell, the choreographer reveals the essence of the Shakespearean tragedy – the dramatic relationship among four principal characters: the Moor (Othello), his wife (Desdemona), his friend (Iago), and his friend’s wife (Emilia).

On the empty stage decorated with a black backdrop, the quartet of dancers indulges in the solemn pavane – Renaissance court dance with ceremonial feline movements, elegant reverences, and formal bows. In the dance choreography, every gesture, pose, and movement expressively convey feelings of the main characters: love, jealousy, torment, deception, rage, and grief. A white silk handkerchief, an important element of the dance, serves as a visual metaphor for the human spirit. During the performance, it changes hands among the characters as the carefully nuanced plot evolves to its tragic end. In the beginning, with pride, Othello (superbly danced by Francisco Ruvalcaba) gives the handkerchief to his beloved beautiful wife as a token of love; Desdemona accepts it with reverence and adoration. To Emilia the handkerchief represents just a pretty piece of fabric; she uses it to tease her husband. In the hands of Iago it becomes a symbol of deception and a murder weapon. When it comes back to Othello, it is proof of his wife’s betrayal and a cause for anger and revenge. At the end of the dance, Othello holds the handkerchief in his hands like a white flag as if surrendering to his sorrow and despair, then gently places it on the lifeless body of his innocent wife. The performance of the entire cast was splendid. Roxane D’Orléans Juste as Desdemona was graceful, sublime, and serene with every step she took; Ryoko Kudo was very impressive as carefree and flirtatious Emilia; and Roel Seeber masterfully portrayed devious Iago. The sumptuous period costumes highlighted the stunning imagery created by the dancers onstage. The soulful Purcell’s music beautifully performed live by the Baroque ensemble American Virtuosi made this performance a truly unforgettable experience.
 


Limón Dance Company in Missa Brevis
© Scott Groler & Clarice Smith Center


The program culminated with a powerful performance of Missa Brevis, the work Limón choreographed in 1958 to “Missa Brevis in Tempore Belli” by Hungarian composer Zoltán Kodály. The choreographer, during his European tour, witnessed how World War II had devastated Poland, and it deeply affected him. He saw destroyed cities and burned villages, yet “vital and undefeated” people. “They have a heroic serenity. I found it inspiring. I’m going to do a dance about it,” wrote Limon after he returned to America. Missa Brevis (Short Mass) is a hymn of the human stoicism and faith. The solemn organ solo opens the work. The ensemble of dancers forms a close group in the middle of the stage. They move as one organism, a community of people united by courage and faith. A central focus of the dance is a male solo brilliantly performed by Ruvalcaba. His role is initially limited to watching dancers from the sidelines, albeit with obvious respect and admiration. He then joins the group in communal crusade. Is this meant as an embodiment of the choreographer himself? The University of Maryland Concert Choir delivered a remarkable performance of the challenging Kodály score.

During his lifetime, José Limón created more than 70 works. Only 20 have survived the test of time and are being performed by some of the finest dance companies. Limón adeptly integrated Humphrey’s movement philosophy called “fall and recovery” in his choreographic language, creating an inherently novel modern dance idiom. His masterpieces including There is a Time, The Moor’s Pavane, Psalm, The Winged, The Traitor, and The Emperor Jones are considered timeless classics of modern dance repertoire. Limón’s powerful dancing technique and masculine movements changed once and for all the perceptions of the role of male dancers from being only supporting or secondary; and firmly established the importance of the masculine figure in modern dance.


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