LIMÓN AT CITY COLLEGE CENTER FOR THE ARTS

WE ARE STILL SHAKEN

BY. KRISTEN HEDBERG

Screen Shot 2017-11-21 at 12.23.28 PM.png
 
 

Untired: Limón Dance Company at City College Center for the Arts

By Kristen Hedberg

Viewed on Tuesday October 24th, 2017 at 7:00pm

Presented by City College Center for the Arts and the José Limón Dance Foundation, Inc.

Program:

  1. Excerpt From A Choreographic Offering (1964)

  2. No Room For Wandering (Yin Yue, 2017)

  3. Chaconne (1942)

  4. Conjurations (Adam Barruch, 2017)

  5. Querida Herida (Rosie Herrera, 2017)

  6. The Moore’s Pavane (Variations on a theme of Othello) [1949]

 

New York Times writer Deborah Jowitt inquired in October 1972 whether José Limón was a king in a foreign country, in terms of his craft and carriage. Jowitt described the legendary Mexican American choreographer as “occupied with his private vision of art…[Limón was] crazy about Shakespeare, Bach, El Greco, Michelangelo, about art that was powerful and heavy and complex. Art that shook you up.”

 

We are still shaken.

 

Flashing forward forty-five years to October 2017, Ms. Jowitt’s inquiry holds remarkably pertinent. The José Limón Dance Company recently performed a six-dance program at City College Center for the Arts in their home base of Harlem, New York. The program highlighted three masterfully crafted Limón classics. Each dance continued to arouse cheer and charm, provoking murmurs of fascination throughout the full house at City College.

 

The Limón works - Excerpt From A Choreographic Offering (1964), Chaconne (1942), and The Moore’s Pavane (Variations on a theme of Othello) [1949] - were complimented on the program by three new contemporary duets for the company. Yin Yue, Adam Barruch, and Rosie Herrera’s premieres proved equally powerful and enduring as Limón’s works.

 

I am reminded of a review on the Martha Graham Dance Company published in September 2016 by DC Metro Theater Arts. Writer Lisa Traiger identified a common struggle for “single-choreographer legacy companies; how to balance the classics with new works – and how to showcase both the legacy pieces and new pieces on a single program without giving one or the other short shrift.”

 

Each dance holds its own, sending City College spellbound through motions of ease and excursion; musicality and might; architecture and abstract; lines, lenses, layers, and landscapes. The six dances drove the audience to excogitate, on heavy themes – love, betrayal, exhaustion, and constraining boundaries, to name a few.

 

A Choreographic Offering opened the program, a tribute to Limón’s mentor Doris Humphrey. The dancers’ beams were brighter than the light pastels they wore; than the shining stage lights; than the fleeting Baroque music. The costume’s luminous color scheme was reminiscent of Paul Taylor’s Esplanade – “and how curious that Esplanade had premiered nearly ten years later than A Choreographic Offering the audience murmured!”

 

The five excerpts were danced with articulate care and a sweeping use of the space. Particularly notable were Savannah Spratt and David Glista in Section III; their short but sweet duet punctuated the music’s accents with deliberant demand and confident poise. A Choreographic Offering’s panoply of spirals, upswings, downswings, turns, and swirls set the program’s tone for high spirits - to then be contrasted by Yin Yue’s duet.

 

Yin Yue’s No Room For Wandering is a duet for two men, set on company dancers Tanner Myles Huseman and Jesse Obremski. Colin Connor prefaced the premiere with a statement on the Chinese American choreographer’s love for effort. And their effort was evident. Huseman and Obremski “fought for every inch,” as they danced with enough vigor and focus to lead an army to grueling victory. No Room For Wandering was a starkly darker dance than the previous, with limited stage lighting and a pulsing sound score. The men wore brown long-sleeved shirts, long pants, and dark socks; their costumes allowed them to slip in and out of darkness. With each emerge, they propelled themselves into the space and into each other. Their movements fit together seamlessly in a sweeping compliment.

 

Chaconne was executed by principal dancer Logan Frances Kruger. Originally set for Limón himself, Kruger danced with majesty and grace fit for Limón’s kingdom. She masterfully captured Bach’s elegance and intricacies, sweeping the City College Center for the Arts stage for thirteen minutes with stamina and heart.

 

In Conjurations, David Glista and Terrence Diable demonstrated “men living in a landscape.” Framed in a rectangular scenario of light, the men danced on the perimeter with carving, angular gestural qualities. Though appearing extremely abstract, the men danced deliberately, as each motion seeped naturally into the next. Notable was a perplexing, hunched walk the men took on as the duet continued. Were they walking this way as a statement of seeking protection? Were they feeling anticipation? Weariness? Or was it simply animalistic? I identified with each possibility, captivated until the final fade.

 

Querida Herida – “dear wound” translated into English – is a comical gem by Cuban American choreographer Rosie Herrera. Though commissioned as a duet, the dance was presented as a trio performed by Jacqueline Bulnes, Angela Falk and Frances Samson. The dance opened in dark lighting; three for three new commissions with nearly black stage lighting. Bulnes and Samson are visible, entwined with hair loose and dressed in long black dresses.

 

Bulnes sparked nostalgia of Martha Graham’s Satyric Festival Song (1932) by her costume – likely sparked because of her history with the Graham company. Bulnes was adorned in a fitted, ankle length black dress with horizontal red stripes. Her costume was not unlike the form of Graham’s costume, for her witty solo.

 

Herrera’s humor took its own direction. Bulnes and Samson moved the audience to mirth as they undressed each other – stripped down to gleaming, red sequined dresses - unwound a large zipper – and utilized the large zipper to manipulated one another, as if the two were toys. The dazzling duo exited and reappeared in golden dresses, even louder than the previous red costumes. The dance reached new heights of ludicrousness at the introduction of recent Juilliard graduate, Angela Falk. Falk completed bizarre and unpredictable passes across upstage, from left to right. Memorable were her chaînés, cartwheels, concentrated runs, and crazed jetes.

 

Though “dear wound” is the title’s translation, Querida Herida successfully healed any ailments on the audience’s minds. Its unpredictability sent the house roaring with laughter.

 

Limón masterpiece The Moor’s Pavane (Variations on a theme of Othello) concluded the program. Colin Conor described this condensed but full, Shakespearian tale as one of the greatest works of the 20th century. In the dance, several statements and themes are identifiable, including stately architecture, crisp musicality, formal etiquette, racism of the 50’s, betrayal, heartbreak, distrust, murder, and passion. The 20-minute ballet was danced by Mark Willis as The Moor – Jesse Obremski as His Friend – Logan Frances Kruger as His Friend’s Wife – and Brenna Monroe-Cook as The Moor’s Wife. The dance’s clear narrative set The Moor’s Pavane apart from other dances in the program, with character development driving the drama. Indicative of Renaissance court dance, the Purcell score pulsed the dancers through their eloquent jealousies.

 

While each dance contrasts the last, the collective six on the evening’s program asserts the mission of Limón’s artistic director, Colin Connor: The Limón technique and repertory is meant to be carried forward and viewed in revolutionary ways. José Limón’s legacy, his kingdom, is alive right now. It is exuberant. It is enduring. And it is untired.