- The Washington Times - Friday, November 4, 2005

Through the years, the Limon Dance Company has performed all over town: Founder Jose Limon’s stunning “Moor’s Pavanne,” danced at a state dinner honoring the King of Morocco, provided the White House with one of its more illustrious evenings. The company’s soaring work “A Choreographic Offering” matched the vaulting arches and commanding space of the National Cathedral.

For its performance in the Kennedy Center’s intimate Terrace Theater on Wednesday night, “The Moor’s Pavanne” was not on the program, but “A Choreographic Offering” was.

The work is a splendid example of a luminous period in the development of modern dance, an art form that has become one of this country’s singular gifts to the world. It is also emblematic of the late Mr. Limon’s spiritual roots: His dances include “Missa Brevis”; “There Is a Time,” inspired by the passage in Ecclesiastes; and “The Traitor,” about the betrayal of Jesus.

Set to Bach’s “A Musical Offering,” Mr. Limon’s choreography flings waves of dancers across the stage or prompts an ecstatic outburst of movement for a soloist. It has a radiance that the company’s current crop of dancers matched in their own fine performance.

The humanity and heroic quality of Mr. Limon’s vision is illuminated by an expansive way of moving, based on a technique of fall and recovery that celebrates the moment the body is suspended upward in ecstasy before gravity takes over.

The style of movement reflects a simpler time and may seem old-fashioned to some, uplifting to others. What is clear is that strong dances were born in that period. Mr. Limon left a body of work that forms the bedrock of his eponymous company. They have allowed it to become the first company to survive so long (33 years) after its founder’s death.

Its longevity is also a tribute to the current director, Carla Maxwell, who has seen to it that the company not only keeps its repertoire of Limon works burnished, but finds new works by choreographers who share Mr. Limon’s aesthetic.

The evening began with the limpid simplicity of Jyri Kylian’s “Evening Songs,” set to a haunting choral score by Antonin Dvorak. Dressed in folk costumes, the men and women in the cast danced its modest but arresting movements with sweet simplicity.

“The Ubiquitous Elephant,” a world premiere on the program that Miss Maxwell confessed had been finished just a few hours earlier, was the work of Jonathan Riedel, a neophyte choreographer and one of the company’s stronger dancers. Inspired by the amusing drawings and writings of Edward Gorey, “Elephant” succeeds intermittently in capturing Mr. Gorey’s antic view of life.

As a work in progress, it shows promise with its hilarious non sequiturs. Mr. Riedel creates them through clever choreography that ranges from slapstick to insightful movement quirks for his eccentric characters.

With a quintet of oddball females gathered around a card table and an unexpected male visitor — an “inscrutable guest” — as its cast of characters, the work moves from confusion to bedlam.

For its final number, the company danced “Recordare/Remember,” a brand-new work from the sought-after choreographer Lar Lubovitch. (As the company approaches its 60th anniversary in 2006, it is commissioning pieces that honor the life and achievement of Mr. Limon.)

Mr. Lubovitch chose to go to Mr. Limon’s Mexican roots and has created a wonderfully faux naif re-enactment of that country’s folk celebration, “El Dia de los Muertos” — “The Day of the Dead.”

An exuberant blending of Aztec and Catholic ceremonies, the dance takes place in front of a quaint little theater ingeniously designed by Ken Foy. Pull open the curtain, and a character or two steps out. Sometimes it is a grieving widow, another time a surprised bride and groom. Sometimes a whole dance group bursts through.

Mr. Lubovitch’s choreography is imaginative, his staging witty, and the Limon dancers capture the work’s tone of innocence and high spirits. Among Mr. Limon’s incantatory dances were a few that reflected his own somewhat ribald humor. Mr. Lubovitch has captured that, too, in this inventive new work.

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