Mae G. Banner
The Egg, June 8
do not pray—we dance.” The words come from the Iroquois people
of the longhouse, but they apply as well to the Limón Dance
Company, whose large-scale works swell with spiritual power.
Last Saturday at the Egg, the 13-member company danced Psalm,
a churning, surging work in which a central figure rises,
falls, and rises again, lifting and being lifted by the circle
that surrounds him. Though Psalm is abstract in form,
it speaks clearly of the deep connection between the leader
and the group. Neither could act without the other.
José Limón made Psalm in 1967, inspired by the old
Jewish tradition of the Lamed-Vov, the Just Ones, ordinary
people within whom all the sorrows of the world rest. Program
notes explain that if one of the Just should fall, the sufferings
would flood out to engulf all humankind.
Artistic director Carla Maxwell has restaged the work with
newly commissioned music by Jon Magnusson for chorus and percussive
chamber ensemble. The revival, which had its premiere in February
at the Olympic Games in Utah, is part of the company’s project
to rescue nearly lost dances by its co-founders, Limón and
Doris Humphrey, as the troupe approaches its 60th anniversary.
Robert Regala portrays the Just Man, his body wracked, his
head jerking and then lifted in searching, questioning moves.
The group wheels and swoops around him like great, windborne
seabirds. They swirl into a circle that breaks to become a
long line; their arms, elbows squared, form a solid chain
high across their chests.
In one section, two Expiatory Figures, danced by Roxane D’Orleans
Juste and Mary Ford, leap like does around the fallen man,
then touch him with a felt spark that lifts him to his knees.
They watch him, breathe with him, rise and fall with him,
their will lifting him to his feet.
At another point, Regala sinks, his head on the knees of four
women at once in an exploded pietà. At another, a phalanx
of men lifts him horizontally and sets him down in the midst
of the group. At last, he circles the mass, round and round
in an image of survival.
Limón favored the circle as an abstract statement of community
and of cycles of life and death in nature. In her new Etude,
set to Schubert’s song of lost love, Maxwell aims to distill
the essence of Limón’s technique and vision so that young
dance students can carry it on. Drawing moves and gestures
from Psalm and other Limón works, she gives the dancer
circles within circles: The head, the torso, and the whole
moving body trace circles in space.
Soloist Jonathan Riedel, in an open blue shirt and street
pants, raised his arms in a prayerful arc, arched his back
and traveled through changes of weight and direction, always
circling and seeming to strive for connection with a higher
The company’s well-balanced program of small- and large-scale
dances opened with the revival of Humphrey’s Invention
(1949; 1983), a trio to music by Norman Lloyd. Its structure—a
man dances alone, then dallies with a flirtatious woman, moves
gravel with a second, more somber woman, and finally partners
them both in a trio of equals—echoes Humphrey’s earlier Day
on Earth, in which the cycle of life is explored. Raphael
Bournalia was the man who danced different rhythms at once
in different parts of his body as he explored the territory
and his body’s abilities. Ford, in a spring green gown with
a ruffle that framed a bare shoulder, was his light-footed
first love, and Kimiye Corwin, draped in a mysterious purple,
taught him gravity.
Roads (2001), Donald McKayle’s African-inflected dance
of mutual group hostility transcended by a love affair that
defies boundaries, completed the program with a swinging,
percussive performance by the company. Corwin and Dante Puleo
were the young lovers who refused to be separated by guardians
Ford and Francisco Ruvalcaba. Regala, bare-chested and wearing
a feathered headdress and raffia skirt, was a leaping shamanistic
figure whose ancient wisdom overruled the contending groups.
Jazz flutist James Newton composed the exciting music.
The history of modern dance is short, yet its masterworks
are in danger of fading out of sight and out of mind. By reviving
endangered works and commissioning new ones in Limón’s spirit,
Maxwell and the Limón company are presenting today’s audiences
with living, breathing classic dances. More power to them.