Limón Dance Company dancers Johnson Guo and Lauren Twomley performed in the Jacob's Pillow commission "Only One Will Rise." (Photo by Christopher Duggan)
For Jacob’s Pillow’s 90th anniversary, the dance haven is celebrating another anniversary – the 75th of the Limon Dance Company – one of the nation’s oldest and most respected modern dance ensembles.
It’s appropriate as the dance farm and the company, founded by the late Doris Humphrey and Jose Limon, have had a long relationship – one built on providing a stage for those who are willing to take dance to the next level.
It is obvious that the Pillow continues that tradition. And as seen on Wednesday night in the Ted Shawn Theatre, the Limon Company is also moving forward, this time with a commission from the Pillow of a work by West African choreographer Olivier Tarpaga.
While I continue to admire the historic works the company performs, which are touchstones of heart, symmetry, grace and musicality, the new piece, “Only One Will Rise,” offered a pathway to Limon’s future.
The work, set to a live musical trio featuring a percussionist, guitarist and bassist, preserves all the best aspects of the Limon tradition – connection between dancers so often seen in the hand-holding circles, a sense of spirituality that looks beyond the earthly and a construction that captivates the eye. Tarpaga, while offering a nod to that tradition, then takes it to our contemporary world – one where dystopia is on the door step.
“Only One Will Rise” dresses that dancers in gray and places them on a shadowy stage in which a single center stage light feels hot. There, 12 dancers appear to wipe away something foul from their bodies as well as compress, fight off or contain a separate invisible force.
The music, as played by Tim Matzer, Daniel Johnson and Saidou Sangare, is at time driving, at other times haunting. And these amazing dancers – particularly the chosen one, MJ Edwards – attack the struggles, inherent in their movement and the music, with intensity and vigor.
Thus, “Only One Will Rise” intrigues.
The program opens with Humphrey’s delicate “Air for the G String.” From 1928, the work for five women wearing long skirts and hooded robes with voluminous trains is a gorgeous dedication to Bach’s Suite No. 3 in D Major with Savannah Spratt leading the sculptural display.
This is one thing I really admire about the Limon ensemble – they are not afraid of stillness. In that way, they insist the audience really see the lines and shapes they form. That was evident in both Limon works shown, “Psalm” from 1967 and “The Waldstein Sonata” from 1971.
“Psalm,” in which Joey Columbus performed as the Burden Bearer, is a prayer set to percussive music by Eugene Lester. Frances Lorraine Samson starts the work, leaping across stage like an angel offering protection. The Burden Bearer needs it as he falls continuously to the floor, reaching out and seeking a hand to uplift him. In the role, Columbus is earnest and sympathetic, and thus bring the viewer with him on his journey of singular despair.
Finally, “The Waldstein Sonata” is another beautiful Limon dance to Beethoven’s Piano Sonata No. 21 in C Major. The balletic ensemble work for eight, that sparks visions of amorous Greek deities, shows off the company’s strength and style.
The company will perform at the Pillow through Sunday. I highly recommend it.