America’s legacy modern dance companies have each found unique new routes keeping their founding choreographer’s visions on today’s stages. Cunningham mothballed his company, while continuing to license existing works. Paul Taylor, still going strong in his sixth decade of dance, expanded his company with new works performed alongside the ever growing Taylor repertory. Limón Dance Company and Martha Graham Dance Company, two companies which have much in common, have adopted something like the Taylor model but on a smaller scale.
The old and new pairings on this past weekend’s concerts by Limón Dance at the Wallis Annenberg Center layered three classic Limón works against two new works. Neither of the two new works, Corvidae by Colin Connor (the company’s new Artistic Director), and Night Light by Kate Weare, felt as sophisticated, or deeply thoughtful as the three Limón works on the program. Those three pieces, Concerto Grosso, Chaconne, and The Moor’s Pavanne made a modern essay in courtly gesture and style out of 1940s era modern movement. Set to Baroque music (Vivaldi, Bach, and Purcell) each piece takes on different territory. Concerto Grosso, for two women and one man, lets the structure and layout of the music be its guide. Chaconne, for a solo female dancer, finds the confluence of upright Baroque dance and the lunging, tilting gestures and arcing arms of modern movement. Pavanne, a limning of the Othello story by a quartet of dancers, tells a crushing tale of imagined betrayal and unhinged rage within the context of a mannered set dance. Together they made a powerful triptych for the continued relevancy of old fashioned dancing for the contemporary concert dance stage.
Corvidae and Night Light both come with movement that looks more readily made up, while Limón homes in on his targets with much less action, veering away from big movements and splashy fare to concentrate on movement as an expression of a state of mind. Corvidae is thin choreography which reveals little. The title with its overproduced reference to taxonomy (corvids, crows, ravens) seemed more barrier than explanation. But beyond the ticking head gestures and black costumes most of the work for seven dancers felt (and looked) overly literal. Set to a movement from the Phillip Glass Violin Concerto no. 1, the darkly lit dancing found some descriptive connection with the sweeping, noirish modal score. Weare’s piece partially set to music from a Biber passacaglia for solo violin doubled back to the Baroque sonorities of the three Limón works. Here at least was a try at blending dance from different eras into an integrated program. It may have been courtly music but the movement, with its stamping rhythms, felt agitated and tribal.
Interestingly, all five works had their origins in college or studio theater performances. The new works, which both originally debuted for college programs, acknowledged so many early works of American modern dance that found unlikely first homes on American college campuses. Both Bradley Beakes as the Moor in Pavanne and Logan Frances Kruger in Chaconne delivered standout performances. Beakes is an excellent theatrical dancer with powerful gestures. He made gruesome fare out of Limon’s distilled narrative in which the conspiracy gestures begin early with threatening lunges and sidelong glances. Ms Kruger brought out a generous helping of quiet virtuosity and intricately detailed footwork in Chaconne. She gave the work an improvisatory feeling. An interesting change was the modern street attire which abandoned the traditional quasi flamenco costuming. Those skinny jeans invested the dancing with yet another stop on the path from the Baroque through the modern dance heyday, finally coming to rest somewhere in our own recognizable era.
And a final word of thanks to the company’s sound designer who placed all the recorded music for the evening at reduced levels that truly reflected the intended scale of the solo instruments and small ensembles of the original compositions. Especially for the Chaconne for solo violin, the concentrated listening and watching transformed sixteen minutes of a dancer on stage, alone, into a quiet monument.
(The reviewed performance took place in Beverly Hills, California on Saturday March 25, 2017)