Jose Limon Dance Company at Popejoy Hall, UNM April 23, 2008

by Janet Eigner

Though the choreographer-dancer Jose’ Limon passed on in 1972, the strength of his mythic contributions to modern dance, stand undiminished, through the continuation of his company, the Jose’ Limon Dance Company.

Brought to Popejoy Hall at the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque, the 13 member troupe conveyed the strength and sculptural beauty of its mentor’s work, performing three of its long and hypnotic classics under the Artistic Direction of original company member, Carla Maxwell. The company plus one guest artist thrilled and stunned the Popejoy audience April 23 with its Olympian level of training.

The performance preserved the Humphrey-Limon choreographic and timeless alphabet. Limon’s movement language distills the curved and bold upper torso disciplines of his mentor, pioneer modern dancer and artistic director of his original company, Doris Humphrey. The company’s after-image is of dancers with beautifully expressive arms raised in holy celebration. Paul Taylor’s ensemble works to classical music owe a debt to this movement language.

Each work presents a consciously spiritual or moral tale. In its unfolding, the movement and music powerfully convey each mood without a viewer needing to understand the layers of message.

“Traitor,” from 1954, revisualized the evident “Red Scare,” caused by the Senate’s McCarthy hearings, as a variation on the Jesus-Judas tale. The creepy, engrossing and barely abstract telling, is set to Gunther Schuller’s “Symphony for Brasses and Percussion.” The color red identifies the man who embodies Jesus or the “Other.”

The seven disciples and Judas, in green, slouch and skulk, knees and elbows deeply bent, elbows pulled back and arched, often in a plotting team huddle that excludes the Jesus figure, who dances with splayed fingers and tense contractions that vibrate. The plotters use tormenting and plaguing gestures against the Other.

The dance ends when the Other is handed a thick rope and hangs himself. Could be an early West Side Story, Montagues versus Capulets. “Traitor” remains a tragic monument to the world’s universal paranoia about new and threatening ideas.

As an inspired tribute to Humphrey, Limon set 14 variations and motifs of her dances to J.S. Bach’s “A Musical Offering.” The excerpt, “Suite,” from “A Choreographic Offering,” was danced by all 13 members of the sixty one year old company.

“Offering” program notes describe a Kabbalistic tradition of 36 Just Men who invisibly inhabit the world. Raphael Bouma’la dances the role of a Just Man who absorbs all the grief of all human hearts.

Even without the program notes for “Psalm,” restaged by Maxwell in 2002, what would be evident through the ensemble’s rapid rushes, the Latin choral chanting, the bells drums and tambourines of Jon Magnusson’s recomposed, 2002 score, is a slowly building culmination, a transcendent, elevated mood.

Oh please, Bob Martin, bring this superb chapter and living legend of modern dance history, to the Lensic.

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