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José Limón’s legacy

CHARMAINE PATRICIA WARREN | 7/13/2017, 3:43 p.m.
Today, in the dance world, when companies led by dance pioneers are fast disappearing, and works from some of these ...
Mark Willis and Kristen Foote in "The Exiles" K. Chang photo

Today, in the dance world, when companies led by dance pioneers are fast disappearing, and works from some of these iconic pioneers are sometimes second on the list of must-sees, it is refreshing to know that in some instances, the old is still being renewed. At the Joyce Theater (May 2-7), the 70-year-old Limón Dance Company, founded by José Limón, stewarded by Carla Maxwell (who served as artistic director since 1978) and now under new leadership by Colin Connor, offered a program of old and new works. In 2016, Connor, a former soloist with the company, was named the fifth artistic director, and Maxwell now serves as “Legacy Director.” For his first New York season, Connor enlisted other former Limón Company members to stage and direct some of Limón’s legendary works. Risa Steinberg staged and directed “Concerto Grosso” (1945), Connor was responsible for “The Exiles” (1950), Gary Masters for “Chaconne” (1942) and finally “Suite from a Choreographic Offering, For Doris Humphrey” (1964) was staged and directed by Kurt Douglas. The season also included Kate Weare’s “Night Light” (2014) originally made for students of The Julliard School, and Connor’s “Corvidae” (2001).

Weare’s “Night Light” and Connor’s “Corvidae” were refreshing contemporary additions, in which the Limón-trained dancers showed their versatility, but settling back for Limón’s legacy works was deeply satisfying. To begin, “Concerto Grosso” offered two shades of Limón’s brilliant way of telling emotional stories. Danced beautifully by Kathryn Alter, Elise Drew Leon and Jesse Obremski, the first half was slow and deliberate with endless suspensions and balances, and then the second half quickened with leaps that covered the stage, showcasing Limón’s signature curves in the back, splayed and punctuated arms, wrist and fingers and the joy in movement. Limón’s crafty telling of Adam and Eve’s forced exodus from the Garden of Eden is “The Exiles,” and it is breathtaking. Kristen Foote and Mark Willis are engaging in their commitment to each other in this challenging duet. “Suite from A Choreographic Offering, For Doris Humphrey,” danced by the full company, was the last on the journey down Limón’s historic and emotion-driven program. Here, the joy of movement and his deep understanding of how best to use and reuse movement are underscored.

On the heels of directors such as Maxwell, and under the veil of Limón’s legacy, the shoes Connor must fit into are rather large. Whatever the stories come, let’s hope that Limón’s legacy will never be lost.

The company of dancers also includes Bradley Beakes, Leon Cobb, Leon, Glista, Ross Katen, Logan Frances Kruger, Alex McBride, Brenna Monroe-Cook and Savannah Spratt.