writers on dancing


Like Old Times

Limon Dance Company
America Dancing Series
Terrace Theater, The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts
Washington, DC, USA
Wednesday, November 2, 2005

by George Jackson
copyright ©2005 by George Jackson

A nice, old fashioned evening of modern dance. Once that might have sounded like a contradiction in terms, but today it is a rarity. All four works shown had beginnings, middles and endings that could be sensed. The programming consisted of excerpts from a classic (Jose Limon's "A Choreographic Offering"), a premiere (Jonathan Riedel's "The Ubiquitous Elephant"), a production number (Lar Lubovitch's "Remember") and an import (Jiri Kylian's "Evening Song"). The dancing was personable and proficient, with some of the women more than that although of star turns, such as the Martha Graham company showered us with last season, there were none.  

The premiere was a pantomime. Riedel set it in an eccentric family of females*, five members strong (and weak, for each had her flaws). There was a knock on the door and who should it be but a man, a strange man. From there the story spun adroitly. Riedel was skilled in setting up the situation, establishing the characters, developing the plot and ending with neither a bang nor a whimper but a bittersweet surprise. The tone was utterly urbane. Edward Gorey's picture stories were acknowledged as a source, yet a touch of Charles Adams could be discerned too. Wisely, Riedel resisted making a dance piece and had the cast concentrate on silent acting. The music (by the Mozart and Morton Feldman) served obligingly, and the upshot was delightfully minor!

Inauspiciously, Carla Maxwell's "Suite from A Choreographic Offering" opened with just a couple of dancers, a pair, doing steps together. Soon they were joined by another pair. The steps seemed rote and coloring, patches of pink and brown, made the women's costumes look like things in a second hand shop. It took a few moments for the eye to become as pampered as the ear was right away by the Bach's music (from "A Musical Offering"). When the dancing did shift into high gear, there was imposing architecture. Strong strands of movement unwound amply and furled with ease. The scale seemed symphonic although the cast consisted of just a dozen bodies (13 were actually called for). Different groupings, such as a chain of 5 dancers vs. one of 7, were made to tip our visual scales and then to balance. Bodies conversant with weight as well as buoyancy seemed immersed in the music and the best passages glowed with Limon's loving variations on Doris Humphrey's movement themes. He proved himself a good advocate of her art, but himself stood in need of an editor. Maxwell let him go on too long.

Europe's Jiri Kylian and America's Lar Lubovitch sometimes market their choreography as ballet and sometimes as modern dance. Should that make a difference? I'll argue that it does. Depending on which it is supposed to be, our expectations differ as to the type of movement explored. Both Lubovitch (born 1943) and Kylian (born 1947) started promisingly as ballet choreographers. Then, though, they seem to have lost sight of the conventions that make ballet fascinating. Kylian's "Evening Song", this modern dance program's opener, was simple, direct, neat and not uninteresting at the start. Perhaps the women in their white dresses were too suburban sophisticate, but the movement was strongly designed without seeming excessively stylized. And, its contours and flow caught the terse lyricism of the music, Dvorak's choral songs (Op. 29). As "Evening Songs" went on, though, there was less and less surprise. Still, compared to the Kylian ballets Netherlands Dance Theater brought to the Brooklyn Academy of Music last year, this septet was unpretentious.

"Remember" (or "Recordare") is fun. Lubovitch gives us lively dancing with a folk pulse plus the ease of Jose Limon's whole bodied technique. The mood -  a mix of comedy, spookiness and spirituality - should be familiar to Americans. Our Halloween is a pale version of Mexico's Day of the Dead, which "Remember" celebrates. In fact, the work just had its premiere on Halloween weekend in Boston. Although the choreographer intended to honor Limon's Mexican origins, audiences will think of Graham's "El Penitente". "Remember" hasn't the deep humanity of the Graham, yet there's similarity in the quick succession of concise scenes, the mood mix, and the overall dynamics. Elliot Goldenthal composed the music. This dance's production values are festive (within modest limits) thanks to Jack Mehler (lighting), Ken Foy (set and props)) and Anne Hould-Ward (costumes).  

*One of the children in "Elephant" can be seen either as tomboy or as boy  performed in the travesty tradition.  

Volume 3, No. 41
November 7, 2005

copyright ©2005 George Jackson



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last updated on November 7, 2005