There was a time when Limon Dance Company was one of the most revered modern ensembles on the world stage. And while the late Jose Limon’s company profile has faded with time (it’s one of America’s oldest), it shone once again on Thursday night at the Saratoga Performing Arts Center.
On the opening night of the Saratoga ArtsFest, the company danced two of its signature works that still radiate greatness: “The Moor’s Pavane” and “There is a Time.” The pieces have staying power because they speak directly to our emotions.
Limon’s dances are about humanity. And both of these works take inspiration from major works of literature: Shakespeare and the Bible.
The emotional context of the dances and the theme make for a gripping combination.
“The Moor’s Pavane” is a condensed “Othello,” which was danced with riveting conviction. Francisco Ruvalcaba as the Moor was clearly tortured as he threw his torso about and kicked his feet to the sky.
Jonathan Fredrickson as his friend was masterful in his ability to convey cunning. The company’s premier dancer, Roxane D’Orleans Juste, was on top of her game as the Moor’s wife. As she pawed him arms and hugged his waist, her desperation to calm her jealous husband was palpable. The trio, along with Kathryn Alter as the Friend’s wife, made for heartbreaking business.
“There is a Time,” a suite of dances, was as beautiful as “The Moor’s Pavane” was troubling. Based on Chapter 3 in Ecclesiastes including “To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under heaven,” it’s a superb creation that begins with a dozen dancers holding hands in a circle. They sway slightly and then begin to orbit in unison. Their circle twists and shifts, but always comes back to its complete and perfect form.
The work then breaks up by verse: “a time to be born, a time to die,” etc. With gesture, each vignette is clearly and briefly stated (with the exception of “a time for silence, and a time to speak,” which is a bit overdone.) The transitions are seamless as well, so Limon slyly carries his audience along.
Limon’s genius is at its height in both of these dances. Amazingly, these two works, among more than 70 that Limon created, sustain the company because they overwhelm with their naked humanity.
But a dance company cannot live on the legacy of a few timeless works. That’s why Carla Maxwell, the company’s artistic director, commissions new dances.
But the most disappointing part of the evening was the 2008 Clay Taliaferro’s homage to Limon. His “Into My Heart’s House” drew from Limon’s undulating vocabulary. But oddly, the dancers did not perform it well.
Set to a collage of music, Bach, Valentin Silvestrov, Nick Barsch and Joanne Metcalf, the piece was haunting and well-composed. Unfortunately, the ensemble sections looked sloppy or under-rehearsed. But this work and others to follow are vital to the company’s survival. Limon had yesterday. It must now live for tomorrow.