Limón Dance Company
Playhouse Square’s Mimi Ohio Theatre
April 22, 2023
By Steve Sucato
The idiom “An oldie but a goodie” was apropos this past Saturday night at Playhouse Square’s Mimi Ohio Theatre as New York’s Limón Dance Company presented a program of three delightful modern dance classics and one gritty contemporary dance work as part of their 75th Anniversary Tour.
Co-presented by DANCECleveland and Cuyahoga Community College (Tri-C®), it had been 18 years since the legacy company was last in Cleveland. Far too long for fans of the Mexican modern dance pioneer José Limón’s works.
The program opened with 1928’s Air for the G String, a work by fellow modern dance pioneer and company co-founder, Doris Humphrey. The 5-minute piece for five women costumed in long gold draped cloaks, a la the Renaissance, was danced to Johann Sebastian Bach’s “Orchestral Suite No. 3 in D Major, BWV 1068 – Air.”
The women moved in a slow procession of circular patterns about the stage, coming together every so often to form elegant tableaus as if posing for a photo. The work’s simple flowing beauty and the dancers’ performance of it were thoroughly satisfying.
Next, Piano Cleveland virtuoso Yaron Kohlberg accompanied the Limón dancers onstage in José Limón’s Waldstein Sonata. Set to Beethoven’s “Piano Sonata No. 21 in C Major,” the 22-minute work was Limón’s last and was left unfinished after his death in 1972. The work was completed in 1975 by Limón Dance Company dancer Daniel Lewis.
A jaunty dance work to a lively piano score, Waldstein Sonata, had its dancers running across the stage in outstretched, syncopated movements. With angled arms and a classic modern dance movement style seen in other companies like Paul Taylor Dance Company and Martha Graham Dance Company, the work had a familiar, comfortable feel to it like a warm embrace.
Often joyous in nature, the dancers’ movement patterns reminded one of square dancing at times. The cast of eight dancers led by an effervescent Jessica Sgambelluri, matched in their dancing the skillful playing of Kohlberg in a work that was a beautiful reminder of Limón’s genius.
After an intermission, the program’s second half led off with one of Limón’s best-known solo works, Chaconne (1942). Performed to Johann Sebastian Bach’s Chaconne from “Partita No. 2 in D Minor” for unaccompanied violin, dancer Savannah Spratt took on the 10-minute solo Limón originally created on himself, performing it with all the power, musicality, and reverence for Bach’s composition that Limón has said drove him in its creation.
Said to have been written as a response to the death of his first wife, Bach’s Chaconne, and Limón’s interpretation of it in dance were both works of technical brilliance and drama.
Spratt was the picture of control in purposeful steps and turns, moving with the emotion of someone fully taken by the music. Mixing folk dance steps and the bold carriage of a Flamenco dancer, the solo, and Spratt’s performance of it, was spellbinding.
Having seen previous dance works by Burkina Faso-born choreographer Olivier Tarpaga that mixed traditional African dance with contemporary dance styles, on the surface, his being paired with a company steeped in classic modern dance movement seemed an unusual choice.
Tarpaga’s Only One Will Rise (2022), a 25-minute contemporary dance work exploring the resilience of the human spirit, however, fit nicely on the company’s dancers and with a vision of Limón Dance Company’s next iteration showcasing historical works from the company’s repertory with new contemporary dance voices.
Danced to an atmospheric soundtrack by Tarpaga and Tim Metzer melding several musical styles, the work was brooding and dark compared to the others on the program. Accompanying the work’s dozen dancers were changing images of a forest and various abstract patterns and shapes projected on the stage’s exposed back wall.
The work followed dancer Francis Lorraine Samson’s rite of passage being sacrificed by the group to fulfill her destiny. Although the combative nature of others in the group coming at her in waves of aggressive lunges and waving arms could easily be interpreted as ostracization rather than a form of support.
A piece with many fine dance sequences including a hand-slapping solo by dancer Johnson Guo, Only One Will Rise, rose to the challenge of being featured alongside the program’s modern dance classics.
A solid program all-round, the hope is Cleveland audiences won’t have to wait another 18 years for the company to return.