BECKET — Founded in 1946 by two gentle giants of the modern dance world — pioneer Doris Humphrey and her devoted student, Mexican José Limón — the Limón Dance Company appeared early and often at Jacob’s Pillow Dance, itself founded by a another of the primary guiding forces. like, Ted Shawn.
This week, the band returns to Shawn’s Theatre: even that building is a legendary figure, having the distinction of being the first theater in this country built specifically for dance. The history of American modern dance artistic lineages is both heavy and delicate for dance artists who choose or are attracted to work in the iconic houses of the “early moderns”. Weighted can get heavy, delicate can get difficult.
This is not the case with the Limón troupe, which, now led by former company member Dante Puleio, continues to strike a fine balance between homage and continuity. The role of the stager cannot be overstated; it’s not just about teaching stages and patterns, but about encouraging exploration within those stages, bringing out nuances. No detail is too small.
And so, while Humphrey’s 1928 “Air for the G String,” directed by Gail Corbin, has a flavor of antiquity, it’s in a classic, timeless sense. No dust, no must. The charming and fiery cast of five women – Savannah Spratt leading Mariah Gravelin, Deepa Liegel, Jessica Sgambelluri and Lauren Twomley – are both stately and playful, like figures on a Greek vase come to life, gracefully stalking the familiar tune of Bach from his Suite No. 3. They float and flutter in simple patterns that form and dissipate like mist on a mountain, or briefly evoke the five linked figures in Henri Matisse’s 1910 painting “Dance”. Matisse’s movers are naked, while these women wear, over simple shirt-like dresses, voluminous capes whose long trains wrap around them or trail and snake in their wake. Originally designed by Pauline Lawrence and beautifully recreated here by Ali Lane, these costumes also come alive, extensions of the dancers’ bodies and elegant magic born of meticulous practice.
Of Limón’s two pieces in this program, “La Sonata de Waldstein”, set to Beethoven’s Piano Sonata No. 21, is the one that perhaps most directly shows the mentor/mentee relationship shared between Humphrey and Limón, with its often sculptural choreography. . In the gently limpid second movement of the score, a trio of superimposed duets crosses the stage. A dancer carried by another in a grand thrown renews itself by deconstructing itself, with a particularly delicious slowness when MJ Edwards lifts Gravelin, the two sharing a poetic and intimate tactility. In their duet, Sgambelluri stands, parallel, on one of Joey Columbus’ thighs as he paddles with his free leg, the two pivoting cautiously; the image is striking, full of confidence and strength while alluding to precariousness.
The faster moving sequences in other parts of this dance, however, have Limón’s unmistakable timbre, a glorious rush of sometimes fast, sometimes slippery antics – the life force is visceral. A sense of community emerges again and again, with dancers often reaching out and then linking to each other with clasped hands, forming lines or circles with flowing kinship. (Premised as excerpts in 1971, after Limón’s death in 1972, one of his former students, Daniel Lewis, fleshed out the work in its now complete form.) This dance is an easy, joyful delight to watching, yes, but the joy is palpable among the dancers too. The sheer delight that Edwards and Liegel exude is particularly priceless.
Limón’s 1967 “Psalm” is also imbued with that unmistakably Limonesque torrent of pure movement, as well as the power of humanity and life that reigns in its dances; the tone here, however, is restrained, dramatic. On Eugene Lester’s revived but often suspenseful original score, Limón explores persecution and the potential for protection from such suffering. The patterns and choreography are superb; the heaviness of the subject, the direct, albeit abstract, images of the crucifixion – at times Columbus, in the lead role of “The Burden Bearer”, extends his arms to the sides, his head bowed downwards and a side, like Christ on the cross – could however very easily tip into a dated melodrama.
(The new work on the program, “Only One Will Rise” by Olivier Tarpaga, is a kind of interesting complement to “Psalm”, but may not be well served where it is on the program, at the end With an engaging eclectic score performed live by Tim Motzer, Daniel Johnson and Saidou Sangare, there is also a central character here, one who is alternately surrounded and perhaps restrained/intimidated by the overall feel in the different solos, duets and other groupings, but a less clear idea of how it all fits together as a piece.)
Returning to “Psalm”, the care given to the rehearsals by set designer Logan Frances Kruger under the direction of Nina Watt is evident, as is the unreserved and fully embodied commitment of the dancers. Columbus is terrific in this complicated role, and the entire cast – especially Frances Lorraine Samson in her gripping and enigmatic opening solo – is unwavering, compelling, and so “Psalm” lives on in this moment, a timeless ode to humanity. .What: Limon dance company
Where: Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival, 358 George Carter Road, Becket
When: Until Sunday July 24
Tickets: $65 to $85.
More information: 413-243-0745, jacobspillow.org