With the New York troupe he founded in the wake of the second world war, José Limón took up what used to be known as “universal” themes – envy, or power and its abuses. His movement emphasises what bodies have in common: breath, muscularity. It is all very mid-century humanist – in a good way.
“The Emperor Jones” starts, like epic Martha Graham, at story’s end. Inspired by the O’Neill play, the 1956 dance rewinds via hallucinatory flashback. When Jones, onetime Pullman porter, elects himself tyrant of a remote Caribbean island, he resurrects the corrupt system he has just managed to escape.
Limón locates the man’s power in his hips, beside his holstered gun. Daniel Fetecua Soto swivelled on his granite throne with unctuous grace. Vulnerability showed in his chest – puffed up like a rooster, unhinged from his spine. The cock-eyed angle of his head, stiff against imagined dangers, betrayed paranoia.
“Chaconne” is lyrical, formal Limón – two qualities he often yoked. The 1942 solo translates the expansive sonority of Bach (played with fluid warmth by violinist Kinga Augustyn) into an embrace of negative space. Troupe veteran Roxane D’Orleans Juste filled her steps with breath.
Of course, the company performs more than Limón. People visit museums, but according to the prevailing wisdom (and funding) they have no use for dance companies that offer only repertory. The challenge for troupes such as Limón and Graham is to find choreographers who express affinities with the founders without repeating them.
An early Jiří Kylián – before the Netherlands Dance Theatre choreographer got pompous and glib – turned out to be an inspired choice. The 1975 “La Cathédrale Engloutie” shares Limón’s sculptural sensitivity and keen probing of relationships (though without the scabrousness). But the only apparent link between the Mexican-born Limón and the Brazilian Rodrigo Pederneiras, choreographer for Grupo Corpo, is Latin America. Pederneiras is all pop, with the busy feet of Latin social dance driving the movement.
The Limón troupe will reprise his “Come With Me” at the end of the month in Central Park, with the composer, Latin jazz clarinettist Paquito D’Rivera, performing live. It is the perfect setting for this bright piece. But “Come With Me” does nothing for Limón – and Limón returns the favour.
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