The Limón Dance Company celebrates its 70th anniversary this year, having existed more years without its founder than with him. The company’s survival is an homage to the man and his work. Dancer and choreographer José Limón (1908-1972) created many works that are considered masterpieces of modern dance. He and Doris Humphrey, who also helped develop American modern dance, founded his company in 1946.
"Dance is a moment, and then it is finished," Limón wrote. His namesake company comes to South Florida this weekend and hopes to capture that moment and keep Limón's work alive.
"He was a master," says Carla Maxwell, who was a member of the company and worked closely with Limón before becoming artistic director in 1978. "You couldn't not be marked by him, by his passion for dance. It was an extraordinary experience, learning-wise."
On the program this weekend are three pieces by Limón showcasing a range of choreography: Mazurkas (1958), The Moor’s Pavane (1949), and The Winged (1966).
Mazurkas, with music by Frédéric Chopin, is a series of musical poems. The Moor’s Pavane, set to a score by baroque composer Henry Purcell, is Limón's reinterpretation of William Shakespeare’s Othello and considered by many to be his signature piece. The Winged is a suite of dances inspired by various kinds of birds, both real and imagined. It was first performed without music — in silence. A score by Joh Magnussen was later added to the choreography.
It is a testament to the deep admiration and respect many hold for Limón and his work that the company’s 70th anniversary is being celebrated around the world. Universities and dance companies across the globe — including Dance Now! Miami, South Florida’s renowned contemporary dance company — are taking part in honoring the artist and his legacy.
Miami is also privileged to have Daniel Lewis, the founding dean of dance at New World School of the Arts and a protégé of the famed choreographer. Lewis will conduct a workshop orchestrated around Limón's techniques.
Asked why he thinks Limón's work has survived for nearly a century, Lewis replies, "He was a genius... he choreographed works that would last."
Lewis also worked with Dance Now! to stage and choreograph a suite of dances in honor of Limón. The result of this collaboration will be performed this month and April, led by Dance Now! Miami’s artist directors Diego Salterini and Hannah Baumgarten. "It was an honor," Baumgarten says of working with Lewis on this project. She studied the Limón technique at Juilliard, where Lewis and Limón once taught. "We were completely connected to the process," she says of working with Lewis. "The biggest challenge was letting go of the trappings of other [modern dance] styles."
The program also includes a work by Salterini titled The Things My Dreams Are Made of. Special guest Carolyn Dorfman will present Keystone as well as Odisea, which examines the plight of Jews escaping persecution from Brazil in 1654. Dance Now! will present its tribute to Limón's 70th anniversary with performances at the Aventura Arts & Cultural Center, Little Haiti Cultural Complex, and Miami-Dade County Auditorium.
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Limón Dance Company
8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, March 18 and 19, at the Duncan Theatre, 4200 South Congress Ave., Lake Worth. Tickets cost $39 via limon.org.
Dance Now! Miami
8:30 p.m. Friday, March 18, at the Aventura Arts & Cultural Center, 3385 NE 188th St., Aventura; aventuracenter.org. Tickets cost $35 for general admission and $15 for students via ticketmaster.com.
8:30 p.m. Friday, March 26, at the Little Haiti Cultural Complex, 212 NE 59th Ter., Miami. Tickets cost $35 for general admission and $15 for students via dancenowmiami.org.
8:30 p.m. Thursday, April 7, at Miami-Dade County Auditorium Black Box Theater, 2901 W. Flagler St., Miami. Tickets cost $35 for general admission and $15 for students via ticketmaster.com.