Review: Limón Dance Co. Honors Its Past

March 31, 2017 | By Bruce R. Feldman

Limón Dance Co., The Wallis, Beverly Hills, March 24, 2017

This impressive troupe has performed continuously since modern dance giant Jose Limón formed it in 1946. In the annals of American dance – where all companies struggle to survive and rarely last beyond the creator's death – that’s a remarkable achievement in itself.

Limón died in 1972. Happily, the company bearing his name and that performed over two nights at The Wallis last week showed that it still lives up to its fabled reputation. The dancers are blessed with polish, purpose and technical strength. The approving Los Angeles audience could not have asked for a more stirring display of fine dancing and mostly spellbinding choreography.

Jose Limon, right, in the 1949 production of "The Moor's Pavane"

The 13-member troupe presented a varied bill of five pieces. Three were Limón signature works from the 1940s, the most famous of which, The Moor’s Pavane, is widely recognized as one of the great ballets of the modern era.

The other two were new ballets from choreographers who most likely never knew Limón or had seen him or the company perform while he was alive. Programming such seemingly disparate works spanning some 80 years has its risks. Pleasures can also result, as they did in this case.

The evening opened on a congenial, graceful note with Limón ’s Concerto Grosso from 1945. It’s an expression of pure joy conveyed by three nimble dancers through abstract movement and set to Vivaldi’s spirited Concerto No. 11, Opus 3 – a famous Limón ballet, but not a weighty one, performed cleanly and convincingly.

More thought provoking was Limón ’s 1942 Chaconne, a powerful, introspective solo performed expressively by Logan Frances Kruger, a polished artist who commanded the stage with authority and intensity.

The ballets Limón choreographed in the 1940s remain fresh and watchable today

In The Moor’s Pavane, Limón distills Shakespeare’s Othello into a tightly organized 20-minute meditation for four dancers. Taking its name and style from Renaissance dance, the work explores themes of suspicion, intrigue, deception, jealousy and evil through choreography that is stately, dramatic, deliberate, even spare.

The dance opens with two couples locked into a tight group and returns to this image frequently. The dancers break apart sometimes, and when they do, they reassemble quickly, as if to suggest their fates are inexorably intertwined.

Throughout the dancers remain largely grounded, not leaving the floor much, conveying the narrative largely through dramatic gesture – stylistic elements emblematic of the technique Limón created and passed down.

The well rehearsed company performed the ballet cleanly, knowingly. They wore the original 1949 costume designs, a visual reminder of the work’s underlying historic significance. If there is a criticism it’s that the youthful male dancers, while first-rate, didn’t quite achieve the imposing weight and dramatic concentration of the sinewy, brooding Limón as Othello and the scheming Lucas Hoving as Iago in films made nearly 80 years ago.

It’s a testament to the dogged perseverance and dedication of the leaders and funders of the troupe that it has continued to perform at a high level some 45 years after Limón ’s death.

It’s equally remarkable that the ballets Limón choreographed in the 1940s remain fresh and watchable today. Vita brevis. These seminal works endure, sustain, and nurture the human spirit in all of us.

Next up at The Wallis, another modern dance mainstay, Paul Taylor Dance Co., May 5-7.

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