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LIMON DANCE COMPANY SHOWS OFF TWO CLASSICS, LUBOVITCH PREMIERE

This article originally appeared in the Culture section of Bloomberg News on November 15, 2006.

Nov. 15 (Bloomberg) — Last night’s opening of the Limon Dance Company — at the Joyce Theater through Nov. 26 — unwittingly emphasized the influence on its founder of two women, both far more gifted than he.

As a dancer, Jose Limon (1908-72) was a figure of commanding power and dignity. His talents as a choreographer were more modest. He was undeniably theatrical, but fatally given to melodrama, even bombast.

For this season, though, the Limon company revived a masterwork, “Day on Earth,” created in 1947 by Limon’s mentor, modern-dance pioneer Doris Humphrey. Set to Aaron Copland’s Piano Sonata, it tells a story of life and death, love and loss, and the making of America. All this with only four characters: a farming man, his first love (frivolous perhaps but never forgotten), the strong wife he succeeds to, and their child, a little girl who dies.

Architectural in structure, stern and spare, the choreography hasn’t got one false move. It has the quiet power of Shaker furniture.

Isadora Duncan’s connection to Limon was more metaphoric. Known as the mother of modern dance, Duncan left behind an autobiography that, Limon claimed, brought about his birth as a dancer. “When I read it,” he declared, “I became incandescent with the desire to dance. She was my dance mother, the Dionysian, the drunken spirit of the soul.”

`Dances for Isadora’

In the year before his death, Limon choreographed “Dances for Isadora” to Chopin piano studies. The piece is not a major or even particularly inventive work. Its usefulness today lies in how simply and beautifully it presents the company’s female dancers.

Five linked solos — some referring to aspects of Duncan’s dancing and choreography, others to her personal life — evoke successively a young woman in her spring burgeoning, the iconoclast who brought vehement passions to dance, the mourning mother whose two little children were drowned in an accident, the political crusader, and the aging wreck of a woman born for glory and disaster.

All of the opening-night soloists, from the seniors — Carla Maxwell, who directs the company, and the incomparable Roxane D’Orleans Juste — to the lyrical Kristen Foote, the lush Ryoko Kudo, and Kathryn Alter, who seems more spirit than flesh, offered dancing that was full of subtle modulations.

Lubovitch Premiere

The news of the season was the New York premiere of Lar Lubovitch’s “Recordare” (Remember), commissioned to celebrate the company’s 60th anniversary. Set to vivid music by Elliot Goldenthal, “Recordare” was meant to pay homage to Limon’s Mexican origins and his visit to the country of his birth in the 1950s, where he collaborated with native artists and musicians.

What Lubovitch ended up producing was a kind of Day of the Dead revue, in which a rakish, skeletal Death figure haunts the living and taunts them with his antics. Somehow he got the tone all wrong.

Amorphous faux-folkloric group dances alternate with crude skits more related to rowdy American comic books than to the ironic and touching Dia de los Muertos customs that unite the quick with the dead, serving deliciously self-contradictory refreshments like sugar skulls.

The Limon Dance Company is at the Joyce Theater, 175 Eighth Ave., at 19th Street, through Nov. 26. Information: +1- 212-242-0800 or http://www.joyce.org.

© 2006 Bloomberg L.P. All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission.

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