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By Eva Yaa Asantewaa
The Joyce Theater, NYC
June 19–24, 2012
Performance reviewed: June 19
In An Unfinished Memoir, choreographer José Limón recalled first dancing a new solo—Chaconne, set to a Bach violin work—before the astonished gaze of his mentor and colleague Doris Humphrey. She declared it, he wrote, “one of the most magnificent things I have ever seen...chiefly because it is a man dancing.”
This spring, for the Limón Dance Company’s run at the Joyce, Chaconne is a woman dancing. Performances of this work honored the late Graham dancer Ethel Winter, who died earlier this year. Roxane D’Orleans Juste (who I saw on opening night) and Kathryn Alter shared the role, accompanied onstage by violinist Kinga Augustyn.
In Chaconne (1942), D’Orleans Juste brought to her performance an awareness of theater space as a malleable reality activated by a body charged, in turn, by the deepest of human experiences and feelings. Dressed simply in tailored black slacks and white shirt—a femininity-neutralizing costume fit for a matador—she unfolds her first courtly gestures as a way of humbly, politely introducing herself. The solo then proceeds through stages of the music’s—and life’s—dynamics, handled by D’Orleans Juste with faithfulness if not fresh revelation. She achieves one critical moment that seizes the eye—her body stretched along a taut diagonal, it would seem, between heaven and earth, or heaven and hell.
Daniel Fetecua Soto as The Emperor and Durell Comedy as The Trader in The Emperor Jones.
The viewer might have hoped for signal moments like this in Limón’s The Emperor Jones, a 1956 ensemble piece reconstructed by Clay Taliaferro to open the two-hour program. Limón’s main character here—an island tyrant mentally tormented by his own cruelty and guilt—should be as fearsome, at least initially, as the hallucinations that bedevil him. Daniel Fetecua Soto—the only “Emperor” after Limón and Taliaferro—gives us the shapes and motions of Jones in a lithe, dancerly way but cannot deliver the necessary heft that would make this character, with his ineffectual pistol dangling from his crotch, seem convincingly mad, not just physically manic. Durrell Comedy’s depiction of the conniving slave trader rests on his skill at minute, slippery changes in the body that require superb physical control. He’s believable and actually quite fun to watch.
Most likely, this historic piece—with the artificiality of its wrenching, staccato style and florid clichés—has lost impact as dance-theater. Nevertheless, Limón might still speak to the dangers of unbalanced, unbridled power manifest every day from elite boardrooms and prep schools to the halls of governments here and abroad. Eerily, the troupe’s season opened right after word arrived that Egypt’s deposed strongman, ailing and confined to a prison hospital, had come very close to death.
Logan Francis Kruger and Kristen Foote in Cathedrale Engloutie.
The company also staged a revival of Jiří Kylián's La Cathédrale Engloutie, set to Debussy. The 1975 piece featured pretty references, in the dancing, to both the lyrical flow and the monumental strength of ocean waves, as well as particularly strong, resonating presence from Comedy, Logan Francis Kruger, and Kristen Foote.
But artistic director Carla Maxwell knows that the durability of her well-trained ensemble will depend on more than a museum’s worth of classic repertoire. She has scored a major popular win with a world premiere—Come With Me, the first U.S. commission for Brazilian choreographer Rodrigo Pedeneiras of Grupo Corpo and the first dance commission for Cuba-born Paquito D’Rivera, a multiple-Grammy winner and a giant of Latin music. The Limón dancers not only took to D’Rivera’s mellow Latin jazz but clearly relished Pedeneiras’ penchant for erect posture, lilt, and fleet movements. If coolness can be said to sizzle in space like surges of electricity, they are cool personified.
Aaron Selissen and Daniel Fetecua Soto in Come With Me.
Pictured at top: Logan Francis Kruger and Durell Comedy in Come With Me.
All photos by Rosalie O'Connor, courtesy Limón Company.