José Limón International Dance Festival
Artistic Director, Carla Maxwell
The Joyce Theater
October 25, 2015 (matinee)
The Limón Dance Foundation was founded in 1946 and remains very relevant especially in some of the pieces that made up Program D of the International Dance Festival at the Joyce Theater.
By far the standout work was The Traitor set to Gunther Schuller’s Symphony for Brass and Percussion (with recorded music, as were all the works except Dances for Isadora.) The piece was made in 1954 and is set against a series of arches that could stand for a bridge or an aqueduct. At first, I was reminded of West Side Story’s Sharks and Jets with the men conveying menace towards one another clad in striking rust, pink and purple pants and shirts. The characters are described as the Leader, His Followers and the Traitor with program notes that they reappear at the end as officers of the law, executioners and “creatures who…torment the betrayer.” Pretty soon it becomes clear that what we are seeing is not any old gang but a version of the betrayal of Jesus with Mark Wills as the main character. Mr. Wills may or may not be a wonderful dancer (we don’t see much movement) but he’s a very charismatic, commanding presence. The piece is powerful throughout, during the “last supper” moments around a white cloth standing in for a table, right up to when the Traitor, danced by Francisco Ruvalcaba, snaps a noose around his own neck.
The earlier pieces were full of chiffon. In Orfeo, Ryoko Kudo as Eurydice and Aaron Selissen as Orfeo had zero chemistry and both had trouble sustaining balances although the lifts with Ms. Kudo on Mr. Selissen’s back were dramatic. Ms. Kudo appears and leaves swathed in drapey white gauze, attended by her guardians, Logan Kruger, Kathryn Alter and Brenna Monroe-Cook who handled their arabesques and other movements well. Chaconne, set to J.S. Bach’s Second Violin Partita, featured Terry Springer from CoroArte, a company from Caracas, in a thirteen-minute solo. It’s a somewhat androgynous role with an introspective air involving a lot of demi-plies which Mr. Springer danced with strength and great deliberation.
Dances for Isadora followed, greatly enriched by a skilled, live piano accompaniment by Michael Cherry. (It’s amazing how much more vibrant live music makes any dance work.) The five women, each dancing a different “evocation” of Isadora, all wore chiffon in bright colors designed by Charles D. Tomlinson, some more successfully than others. Kristen Foote was the most outstanding dancer, moving with controlled passion and energy; again, Ryoko Kudo seemed wan.
The Limón Company has been in the vanguard of American modern dance since its inception. Clearly, it has survived the death of its founders, José Limón and his teacher and mentor, Doris Humphries. This company has been forging ahead for years and continues to provide audiences with fascinating, if sometimes, uneven programming. Now that the Limón company has a permanent home, having moved in with the Dance Theater of Harlem and is approaching the farewell of artistic director Carla Maxwell, it will be worth watching to see how the troupe adapts.