The great Mexican-born American dance master Jose Limón fiercely dominated the stage. His intellect, artistry and sociopolitical ethics throbbed intensely through his every sinew. He danced what he believed.
When he died in 1972, Limón left behind a repertoire based on his work and that of dance innovator Doris Humphrey, his mentor and artistic director.
The 60-year-old Limón Dance Company, which he founded with Humphrey, commissions works by other choreographers, but its Dance Celebration run, which began Thursday night at the Annenberg Center and ends tonight, shows only purely divine Limón works.
An homage to Humphrey, Limón's
Suite From a Choreographic Offering
paraphrases themes from her dances. Set to Bach's
A Musical Offering
, it begins and ends with dances for 13, with variations of solos, duets and quintets between. It couldn't be a more splendid monument to Humphrey and to American-inflected ballet - a product of mid-20th-century modernism. (Although Limón studied to be a painter in the manner of El Greco, his dance language has more of cubism.)
Dressed in shades of blackberry sherbet, the company personified Bach's notes on the stage.
After fighting for balance on one dévelopé, soloist Ryoko Kudo showed her mettle throughout the rest of evening, once standing squarely to the audience with one leg in 2 o'clock extension for an astonishing length of time. An allegro female quintet braided arms and spread limbs and torsos abstractly, but still looked harmonious, as did all the permutations in the large ensembles.
As his statement on the McCarthy hearings, Limón created the 1954 all-male work
, set to Gunther Schuller's gorgeous
Symphony for Brasses and Percussion
. Three-dimensional pillared arches by Paul Trautvetter framed the stage where Francisco Ruvalcaba, the Traitor, betrayed Jonathan Frederickson, the Leader. But Ruvalcaba could not match Limón's inner fire as the original Traitor, and Frederickson could have been stronger. The performance felt at times like an opening-night run-through.
In his most famous masterpiece,
The Moor's Pavane
(1949), an adaptation of
, Limón pares Shakespeare's play down to four actors. Ruvalcaba inhabited the role of the Moor with more conviction than his previous one. His Friend, Roel Seeber, was a less credible Iago. Kudo as the Friend's Wife and Roxane D'Orléans Juste as the Moor's Wife joined them in a circle where they paired off for the courtly, if deadly, dance.
Pauline Laurence (later Limón's wife) designed the magnificent gowns for the original production, which were updated slightly for this performance.
Juste wore a strapless gown with puffed and ruffed arm covers, and Kudo a gown of burnished orange.
When Kudo's character realizes her role in Desdemona's death, she swoons, and her skirt flutters like a dying flame.
But the drama of
The Moor's Pavane
Limón Dance Company
2 and 8 p.m. today at the Annenberg Center's Zellerbach Theatre, 3680 Walnut St. Information: 215-898-3900 or