Jose Limón: A legend lives on

Charmaine Patricia Warren | 11/19/2015, 4:26 p.m.
The late choreographer and early modern dance pioneer Jose Limón will always be recognized for his tremendous contributions in bringing ...
Dance Limón

The late choreographer and early modern dance pioneer Jose Limón will always be recognized for his tremendous contributions in bringing breath to dance—the Limón technique. Led by his mentor, Doris Humphrey, with whom he formed the Limón Dance Company in 1946, Limón’s movement breathing system, which asks dancers to “fall” (exhale) and “recover” (inhale) using a swinging motion of the arms and follow through, organically, with the torso and the legs. This technique would be the impetus for his now legendary body of work that spans 70 years.

The Limón Dance Company, now led by Carla Maxwell, recently celebrated the works of Limón by bringing companies from around the world together to dance some of his works for the Limón International Dance Festival at the Joyce Theater (Oct. 13-25). Guest companies were the Royal Danish Ballet (Denmark), sjDANCEco (California), American Repertory Ballet (New Jersey) and CoreoArte (Venezuela), plus a number of national and international participating universities. The works ranged from as early as 1945 (“Concerto Grosso”), danced by students from the Julliard School and the University of North Carolina School of the Arts, to 1970 (“The Unsung”), danced by students from the University of Arizona, plus Limón Dance Company and members of the Royal Danish Ballet, all on different programs. There were six programs.

On one program, although sjDANCEco in “Mazurkas” (1957) and American Repertory Ballet in “There Is a Time” (1956) were lovely, the highlight of the evening was the host company, Limón Dance Company, and their noteworthy performance of “Carlota” (1972). The work is done in silence and the audience was rapped from beginning to end.

Limón’s Mexican heritage is alive here and Brenna Monroe-Cook is mesmerizing as “Carlota,” dancing effortlessly as the mad Mexican Empress, Carlota, during meetings with husband, Maximillian, or encounters with her court. Monroe-Cook is Limón’s present-day muse. She commands a hush when she first rises from her throne, takes off her cloak and scours the space in her long, red gown. Attendants follow her in canon or in unison sequences as she gestures, snakes and circles around them, struggling from one angst moment to another.

True to Limón’s love of theater and story, Monroe-Cook, who doesn’t really “dance” much, simply raises her long arms, lifts just one leg or stares with Svengali-like measure, and that tells all. Her ear-piercing scream in the dark is the only jolt that moves the crowd to take a breath. “Carlota” was stage by Maxwell, Limón’s original muse. Thank goodness that there is Maxwell, Associate Artistic Director Roxane D’Orléans Juste and the entire Limón family, who we hope will continue this very important legacy.