Though its repertory is an up-and-down affair, the Limón Dance Company offers dancing to disarm the most jaded viewer. Its beautiful finish is clearly an attribute of sophisticated artists, yet it retains an ingenuous quality. It is unaffectedly passionate and tender, with body and soul conceived as an indivisible unit.
The troupe’s recent appearance at the Joyce featured a revival of the 1949 trio Invention, by Doris Humphrey, José Limón’s mentor. Its very simplicity serves as a correction to the elaborate artifice and pretension – most of it hollow – that pervade current dance-making. The piece reveals the body, buoyant with its own breath, as a dynamic entity in a vast unadorned space and trusts these sheer physical elements to convey emotional implications. Shown back to back with Invention were the “Envy” and “Wrath” solos from Roads to Hell, made in 1940-41 by Eleanor King, a less-celebrated but nonetheless distinguished contemporary of Limón. King renders the states of mind in question with Old Testament force given the twist of a very modern irony. The pieces were performed by Risa Steinberg, a Limón veteran, with theatrical daring and exquisite modulation.
A new duet by Doug Varone, Short Story, made an apt sequel to the golden oldies. Physically plainspoken and emotionally telling, it uses ordinary gesture and pedestrian movement to depict a couple who have been mated forever, despite – everything. Danced in a tight rectangle of light on an otherwise dark, bare stage, it depicts the unending cycle of desperate, conflicting needs lurking beneath the surface of what we call love. Varone took the man’s role himself. His partner was Nina Watt, who is unequivocally one of the finest dancers of our day.
The less said about the season’s other new works, the better. Two creations set to jazz scores, Billy Siegenfeld’s If Winter and Donald McKayle’s Cross Roads, were banal in theme and thin in movement invention. Murray Louis’s Isle, a gloss on The Tempest, proved to be negligible on a more audacious scale, with a composite leading role requiring its performer to suggest Caliban, Ariel, Miranda, and even Prospero himself. No dancer is that much of a magus, not even the fabulous Roxane D’Orleans Juste.