“The Emperor Jones,” “Chaconne,” “La Cathédrale Engloutie,” “Come with Me”
Limón Dance Theater
The Joyce Theater
New York, NY
June 20, 2012
By Carol Pardo
Copyright ©2012 by Carol Pardo
José Limón died forty years ago. The company he founded with Doris Humphrey is proof that a choreographer’s company, can survive and even thrive, long after its founders are gone. The method, if one program can serve as an example,seems simple. First, whatever the piece, dance it with affection and respect, without letting reverence ossify into pedantry, That will suck the life out of it. Show as many different facts of the founder's work as possible. Add pieces from other traditions, one a world premiere. Variety is the spice of programming and novelties are useful for both dancers and box office receipts. But at this performance it was the older works that carried the day and stayed in the mind’s eye.
“The Emperor Jones,” last seen here in 2010, is Limón’s distillation of Eugene O’Neill’s play. Although the narrative retelling is fitfully muddy, the dance works as a cautionary tale—not the first—about the abuse of power. The curtain rose on the emperor, hunched over on his ornately carved throne. His jacket is blue velvet, his pants are scarlet, there’s gold braid to spare. He holds a helmet, also gold. He’s dejected even though he has subjugated everyone in sight (a writhing corps of six men). Does he know that they will later haunt him, driving him mad, and depose him? The only other character, The Trader, is a fair-weather friend, Uriah Heep in an ice cream suit and a Panama hat. The Emperor was danced by Daniel Fetecua Soto, handsome, forthright, imposing with a body composed of clear geometric shapes. The scene where he was sold in to slavery was gut-wrenching. His nemesis was danced by Durell Comedy, who insinuated himself into the despot’s good graces like a python. The physical contrast between the two dancers reinforced that between their characters. To Limón’s credit (and to the stager’s, Clay Taliaferro), delicacy outwits the obvious; a Panama hat nonchalantly hung on a curlicue of the throne signals that power games go on forever; only the players change.
The leap from “The Emperor Jones” to “Chaconne” is like a jolt from a newly brewed double espresso. On stage were two women, violinist Kinga Augustyn, in a long black dress, to play the Bach “Chaconne,” and dancer Kathryn Alter, dressed almost androgynously, in slacks and a button-down shirt, her hair parted in the middle and tightly pulled back, with the tall order of holding an audience’s attention for fifteen minutes, all by herself. She did, without breaking a sweat. The solo weaves together three relationships to the floor, initially standing, then with a knee to the stage as though rooted, and finally, just as the dancer seemed trapped (and the music changed), off the ground, airborne. The center section of “Chaconne” became as study of liberating jumps. Throughout, Alter used her hands as a full player in the dance, not ornamentally but forcefully, like large shovels, to provide an unexpected accent and draw attention to the power of weight. The dance ends with a low reverence which unfolded to become a tendu front with the upper body bent backwards. We are back where we started but have been on quite a journey in a quarter of an hour.
Jiri Kylián’s “La Cathédrale Engloutie” wants to say something about the human struggle, about who we are versus who we want to be, about self-imposed order and our own resistance to that order. Four poles, somewhere between a stand of birch trees and moorings for gondolas, define the stage. The piece opens with a quartet of two men and two women dressed in ochre or oyster. Four duets follow, two same-sex, two not—the loading of Noah’s Ark comes to mind—and ends with another quartet. The dancers here looked attractive but homogenized. The tone of the piece, with its neutral colors, manufactured serenity and overall blandness was like being stuck in the waiting room of someone who imparts bad news for a living. The use of a soundtrack of waves rolling onshore intercut with snatches of Debussy, played live, made the piece blander still.
“Come with Me,” the world premiere, is a collaboration between Brazilian choreographer Rodrigo Pederneiras of Grupo Corpo and the Cuban composer Paquito D’Rivera. It adds a Latin accent to the jazz and ballet vocabularies. The women are dressed in very attractive black flouncy dresses with bright underskirts. The men are in black t-shirts and flower-print pants that would make Lily Pulitzer blush. As in the Kylián, the dancers look attractive and give it their all. Pederneiras introduces his cast effectively; the stage sparkles as they play off each other. But thereafter, he is treading water, unable to build on his opening to give the audience or the Limón company the send-‘em-home happy finale that would balance the two halves of the program.