After Limón

“Dances for Isadora,” “Day on Earth,” “Recordare”
Limón Dance Company
Joyce Theater
New York, NY
November 14, 2006

by Leigh Witchel
copyright 2006 by Leigh Witchel

The Limón Dance Company, which opened its 60th anniversary season at the Joyce on Tuesday night, has spent more years without its founder than with him. As with many other companies, it has had to grapple with the dilemma of what to do after its guiding forces have departed. The opening night program was a reflection of its approach in microcosm; presenting works by its original directors, José Limón and Doris Humphrey, and “Recordare”, made last year for the company by Lar Lubovitch.

Limón’s “Dances for Isadora” are five dances inspired by Duncan’s art and her life. Each is a different incarnation in chronological order: Primavera’s skipping solo, Maenad’s intense angry rolling, Niobe, ascetic and mourning for her two children killed in a freak accident, La Patrie, the revolutionary with an enormous red banner — danced by Roxanne D’Orleans Juste, who was riveting in all she did that evening — and the final Scarf Dance performed by artistic director Carla Maxwell, which mercifully only gives an inference of Duncan’s own fatal accident at its last moments.

With all that material one could be tempted towards melodrama — Kenneth MacMillan certainly was when he choreographed “Isadora” — but here, it’s the movement that matters. It’s interesting to compare “Dances for Isadora”, rather than to MacMillan’s bioballet, to Frederick Ashton’s “Five Brahms Waltzes in the Manner of Isadora Duncan”.  Limón used Chopin pieces rather than Brahms (including one that may be more familiar from the sketch in “The Concert” where the ballerina terrorizes the young Caspar Milquetoast who wears a yellow vest.)  In Limón’s piece, Primavera (Kristen Foote) rushes across the stage in an allegro solo. There are moments of reflection, but there’s little wafting about. Ashton was fascinated by Duncan’s mystique and the stagecraft that enchanted him as a child, such as Duncan scattering a seemingly inexhaustible supply of rose petals. Limón’s Isadora performs dense choreography; she is less a presence, more a dancer. Five different women dance and there is greater variation in mood (Duncan the revolutionary as well as Duncan the aesthete); she seems as much a real person as a legend.

Lubovitch was Limón’s student at Juilliard before going on to found his own company. “Recordare” is Lubovitch’s evocation of a Day of the Dead pageant in rural Mexico. In slapstick episodes, the dance shows Death and the Devil pursuing their quarries, brides and grooms, widows and maidens, sometimes failing and sometimes succeeding. The humor is coarse, but there is also an eerily beautiful dance of floating lifts for couples among scattered flower petals in a graveyard. “Recordare” was theatrical in a quirky but compelling way Lubovitch’s work sometimes misses.

Doris Humphrey may be best known as the woman who literally wrote the book on “The Art of Making Dances”.  Like Martha Graham, she came out of the Denishawn company; “Day on Earth” was a later work made after her performing career had ended and she was directing Limón’s company. It’s an intimate allegory for a man and three women, his first love, his wife and their child, which equates the work day with life’s longer journey. The work is earnest, maybe too earnest. To put a work that deals with life every day on the stage, one has to show what makes the quotidian theatrical. The performance, with Raphaël Boumaïla as the Man, Foote and Juste as the Young Woman and Woman and Morgan Cragnotti as the Child, though accomplished and respectful, seemed to be missing that. Both Humphrey and Limón could structure a work so well that it feels as if one is getting a lesson on How to Choreograph. Though it insures that a work will be watchable, it doesn’t guarantee that it will be interesting.  When it all comes together, as in “Shakers” or “The Moor’s Pavane”, the results are breathtaking. When it doesn’t, it’s confusing, like a meal that is somehow flat.  What was off, the ingredients or the chef?

"Recordare". Photo by Rosalie O'Connor.

Roxane D'Orleans Juste in Limon's "Dances for Isadora" photo by Alon.

Volume 4, No. 41
November 20, 2006

copyright ©2006 Eva Kistrup



©2006 DanceView