- The Washington Times - Friday, September 15, 2006

As a dancer, Jose Limon was a towering figure in the mid-20th century. His striking good looks, powerful technique and sheer magnetism made him the first male dancer to become a star in the world of modern dance. Thirty-four years after his death, his 60-year-old company still bears witness to his impressive gifts as a choreographer.

The heroic thrust of Mr. Limon’s vision was displayed Thursday and last night as the opening salvo of an adventurous season in the Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center at the University of Maryland.

A striking feature of the splendid program was the live music accompaniment by American Virtuosi, directed by Kenneth Hamrick, and the University of Maryland’s own fine Concert Choir, directed by Ed Maclary. They lent a luminous glow to the evening. Kudos to the university for supporting such a collaboration.

The evening opened with “Concerto Six Twenty-Two” by Lar Lubovitch, a charming, funny, breezy work. At its center is a poignant duet for two men, which was performed with quiet intensity by Kurt Douglas and Jonathan Riedel.

Mr. Limon was a unique artist (and remains so today) for his unabashed focus on large themes, often with a religious base — a brave choice then and now in a society that often shies from grand or emotional subjects.

“I try to compose works that are involved with man’s basic tragedy and the grandeur of his spirit,” he once said. “I reach for demons, saints, martyrs, apostates, fools and other impassioned visions.”

The demons were evident in “The Moor’s Pavane,” set to Henry Purcell’s darkly dramatic music. Mr. Limon’s most famous work, in the repertoire of many of the world’s leading ballet companies, remarkably distills Shakespeare’s “Othello” to two couples — Othello and Desdemona and Iago and his wife — and frames the drama within the formal constraints of a pavane. As the story of betrayal unfolds, the two couples break out of the courtly pavane, staggering under the weight of the coming tragedy.

The original cast left a vivid and indelible mark on the work that the present company’s cast understandably could not match Thursday evening. Raphael Boumaila’s Moor did not approach the fierce, regal passion Mr. Limon brought to the role. The two women also were somewhat passive, but Mr. Douglas, the evening’s Iago, made the role his own with the avidity of his evil.

A memorable performance of the dance was given here by Mr. Limon’s original cast 18 years after its premiere when his original four dancers reassembled for a performance at the White House in 1967. Never has the large crystal chandelier of the East Wing looked so appropriate as a prop for dance as during the magnificent performance that night.

The triumph of this week’s program was the revival of Mr. Limon’s monumental “Missa Brevis,” set to Zoltan Kodaly’s music and given a radiant performance by dancers, singers and musicians. The architectural splendor of the work was enthralling, the arresting patterns and striking choreography produced an awesome effect, and all involved danced or played or sang their hearts out. A grand finale to a special evening.

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