Performing Arts: Dance
April 21, 2022
The José Limón Dance Company celebrated its 75th Anniversary two week season at the Joyce Theater. Week one they presented three iconic works and one contemporary premiere. All four works exalted the human spirit during this time when our culture aches for redemption and relief after pandemic and world atrocities. The evening also revealed Artistic Director, Dante Puleio’s commitment to bridging the past with the future by featuring the work of contemporary choreographer, Olivier Tarpaga. Each dance in the program was prefaced with recorded narration by Dion Mucciacito, providing important historical notes and context.

Doris Humphrey’s Air for G String (1928), (music by J.S. Bach’s Suite No. 3 in D Major, “Air”) opened the evening with a blessing of grandeur and reverence, reminding us of her influence as Limón’s mentor and artistic director of his early company. Five tall, willowy women, draped in cascading, golden silks, (original costumes by Pauline Lawrence, rebuilt by Ali Lane) circle, arch, and curve, in slow promenades, connecting through spirit and breath, suspending and seemingly floating to heaven while never leaving the ground; angels on earth.

Psalm (1967), considered to be one of Limón’s masterpieces, with the original musical score by Eugene Lester, features 15 dancers in community surrounding a central heroic figure who suffers life’s burdens and responsibilities for the group. Grief, suffering, longing, searching, hope, caregiving, redemption -- all human experiences -- embody the half hour work. The exquisite choreography and the dancers' technical brilliance confers a complete depiction of Limon's depth of humanity.

Johnny Gandelsman (solo violist) and Donovan Reed (solo dancer) captivate and mesmerize the audience in Chaconne (1942), Limón’s inspired first work, with music by J.S.Bach’s Partita #2 in D Minor. A majestic, austere solo, with deep lunges and arabesque pirouettes, the figure floats in space on one leg in endless moments of suspension to the impeccable brilliance of Gandelsman’s violin interpretation of Bach’s score.

The final work by contemporary choreographer Olivier Tarpaga, sets the company’s sights on the future in Only One Will Rise (2022), a premiere for the ensemble group to original music by Tarpaqa and Tim Motzer includes live percussion, guitar, and bass musicians. Narrated explanation describes Tarpaga’s identification with Limón’s search for redemption and the celebration of the human spirit.

Opening with twelve still dancers surrounding a central grieving figure, the work develops with slow moving dancers juxtaposed next to quick, eccentric movements by others, offering alternatives in the experience of time within the same moment. Projection design by Michael Clark changes our perspective of location and space, alternating between abstract contemporary art with nature images.

Continuous changes in groupings, from solos, to trios, to sextets, to unison group work, show Tarpaga’s respect for Limón’s use of “fall and recovery” in the choreography, dancers often rising and falling to the floor, but with his own signature style based in his African roots from Burkina Faso.

The evening ended with a Q & A discussion with Artistic Director, Dante Pulieo, Choreographer Olivier Tarpaga, and Company member Savannah Spratt, moderated by artist/scholar/educator Kiri Avelar.
Mary Seidman

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