José Limón Dance Company performs radiantly with timeless perfection! Showcasing in New York City at Baryshnikov Arts Center, There is a Time, by Limón, and Rooms, by Limón's close colleague Anna Sokolow, these two legends offer disparate and compelling visions of the same generation in American dance history, both of which to dancers' delight still have the power to speak to us today.
The program opens with Rooms, Solokow's intensely American "masterwork" examining, mostly through short, intense character studies, isolation and fantasy in post-war America. Thanks to generous funding for this revival, the score, written by Kenyon Hopkins specifically for this piece, is performed to live music played by an ensemble from the Manhattan School of Music. Beginning with a jazzy overture the stage is evocatively set for New York in the 50's, a hot bed of American Jazz. Moving into the dance numbers, Sokolow slowly reveals her studiously sparse movement vocabulary in the first section for the company. All members sit in high backed black chairs, the men in brown pants and grey undershirts, the women in lavender chiffon shirts over long pink satin dresses. They are each in a separate block of white light. One woman turns slightly to the left, another slowly arches her face towards the ceiling. This sets off a chain of tilting bodies, extending arms, and rises to standing that, while quite slow in execution, nevertheless find impact in increasing tempo and deadpan delivery to an ever more dissonant accompaniment. Although a group choreography, Sokolow titles it and the last full company section, "Alone."
She continues to offer glimpses into the lives of several typically New York characters; the hyper-active jazz cat shaking his snapping fists as he lounges backward over his chair, the dreaming and languid female lover, opening one leg to the ceiling, closing it and rubbing it over the other several times so that pink of her satin under-dress is revealed barely covering her crotch, the desperate young man searching for meaning as he spins in a crouch, head up, arms spread flat out parallel to the floor.
Sokolow's success in this work comes from her dedication to her limited vocabulary. Her philosophy might be summed up as, 'if its worth doing once, its worth doing again.' But her repetition isn't simply doing the same again. She continually shifts the movement against it's own rhythm, and that of the carefully constructed score, so that movements that might seem quirky, or even flat, gather emotional intensity over time. The overall effect is a vision of New York, and, by extension, of America, as a collection of lost souls on a doomed search for connection through art, sex, and love.
Limón, on the other hand, offers up a more cheerful vision. In There is a Time, he choreographs, quite literally, a passage Ecclesiastes, which begins, "To every thing there is a season..." and which most viewers will recognize. Taken with the text the choreography can seem pedantic, even mime-like, but removed from the obviousness of the words to which it was made, it takes on a dramatic relevance that in totality is quite powerful.
The work is an elaborate circle dance. Morphed from more pastoral invocations of this folk form, Limón keeps his dancers in vaguely 19th century dress; long skirts for women and peasant shirts for men. The company begins in a circle, facing inward and lightly swaying from side to side. The moment is striking which is why he goes back to it as a final image - after we have seem Limón's dense choreographic overview of the human condition, it moves us again with it's simple evocation of community.
Full of trademark Limón spinal curves and falling arabesques, as well as drama and joy, this dance showcases the specificity of both Limón's technique and his dramatic vision. Men leap through the air, one leg stretched forward, foot flexed, the other tucked up and and underneath the pelvis while the elbows come in front of the body, fists clenched. It is a virile move, and fits here to present men as fraught, but powerful creatures. Women are also strong in this vision, but of course in a different manner. Love, as a flaxen-haired woman in a pale blue dress, brings peace to the warring hordes with a single sweep of her outstretched arms.
My favorite dance of the evening, done by my favorite dancer of the company Jonathan Fredrickson and Kathryn Alter is set to a "A time to keep silence, and a time to speak." She is a conflicted woman with something to say- she covers her mouth and holds it in either from fear or pride, it is hard to say which through her enigmatic performance. He is a loud mouth and cocky. As the company keeps time with hand claps from the sides of the stage, he slaps his thighs, feet and hands on the off beats. He sweeps a leg through attitude, slapping his knee on the way down, and comes through a deep second position to do it again, all the while maintaining beautifully controlled technique. As he then reaches to the sky, one leg coming to passé and the other descending into plié, I smile, because it feels just so... Limón.
iDANZ Critix Corner
Official Dance Review by Meghan Frederick
Performance: Rooms and There is a Time performed by the José Limón Dance Company
Choreography: Anna Sokolow & José Limón
Venue: Baryshnikov Arts Center
Show Date: February 10, 2010
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