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Unbroken Circles
By Mae G. Banner

Limón Dance Company
The Egg, June 8

‘We 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 spirit.

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.

Cross 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.


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