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Dance company retains vision despite loss of its founder

The continued survival of the Limon Company after the death of its founder is a remarkable story, especially compared to what has happened to other dance groups that try to continue without the person who set the vision.

Limon Dance Company

Limon Dance Company Gabriel Morales

It was unfortunate that a number of people left before the last piece of the Limon Dance Company concert at Meany Hall last Thursday night. The concert was too long, but had they stayed they would have witnessed the most lively and engaging work of the evening.

“Come With Me” was described as a “special preview” of a new dance by choreographer Rodrigo Pederneiras, artistic director of Grupo Corpo, the hugely popular Brazilian troupe that last appeared at Meany a year ago. It is the first time that Pederneiras has set a dance on an American group, and it coincides with the celebration of the Limon Company’s 65th year since its founding.

Pederneiras’ movement fuses the easy hips and backs of Afro-Brazilian dance, with influences from other styles such as jazz, ballet, and hip-hop. They are closely integrated with the dynamics and rhythms of the music he chooses for his individual dances.

“Come With Me's" score is a rich new composition by the masterful Cuban American composer and musician Paquito D’Rivera, commissioned for the dance by the Limon Company. In turns lyrical, playful, and propulsive, the music is a beautiful match for the lively choreography devised by Mr. Pederneiras. A plethora of quick feet and darting legs had the dancers hopping and stepping animatedly around the stage.

As counterpoint to their lower extremities were the performer’s loose arms, which easily moved in tandem with their legs and flexible backs, rather than being placed into more rigid formal positions. Enriching the excellent dancing by the Limon company was a special appearance by guest artist Diogo De Lima, a mainstay of Grupo Corpo, who supplied some quicksilver interpretations of his own.

The Limon Company holds a special place in contemporary American dance. Doris Humphrey, who co-founded Limon in 1946, is a pioneer of the “modern” dance. Jose Limon had been a long-time dancer in the company that Humphrey co-directed with her colleague Charles Weidman, before she joined with Limon as artistic director of his new group. Limon himself was a majestic and dramatic figure; a Mexican American who brought his cultural heritage and humanism to bear on his original choreography.

After Limon’s death in 1972 (Humphrey passed away in 1958), his troupe persevered rather than disbanding. It was the first time a single choreographer modern company had maintained its existence after the death of its founder. Over the years the company has expanded its repertoire to include not only the works of Mr. Limon, which were many, but — through commissions and acquisitions —the dances of other noted contemporary choreographers.

The continued survival of the Limon Company is a remarkable story, especially compared to the soap opera of the Martha Graham troupe after her death, or the recent dissolution of Merce Cunningham’s superb company.

Mr. Limon’s work, even when abstract, is always invested in the human condition, full of emotion, drama, and heroic portrayals. Not light-hearted, it can — at times — be on the melodramatic side.

In addition to “Come With Me,” the company’s appearance at Meany gave us three important works from the Limon canon. Two were inspired by court dances, “Chaconne,” and the “The Moor’s Pavane,” while the third, “There Is A Time,” created variations on the circle, perhaps the most elemental and earliest geometry used for human dance.

“Chaconne” was the oldest work on the program, created as a solo by Limon for himself in 1942 while still a dancer with the Humphrey-Weidman Company. The dance is replete with clearly defined, angular, and direct movements. It is simple and elegant, infused with emotional intensity. The tall, majestic, and macho Limon must have been quite striking when he performed it as a young man. I was not able to see the Saturday night performance when Kathryn Alter was to dance the role, but was intrigued with the idea of the interpretation a woman might fashion.

The musical accompaniment is JS Bach’s “Chaconne from Partita No. 2 in D Minor for Violin.” Interesting that the pious Bach’s somewhat somber music is related to a “robust and raucous” dance from the New World, variations of which subsequently gained popularity in Europe.


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