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By Robert Tracy
Leaping into a Limón Classic
After her initial panic dissipated, Ryoko Kudo settled down to tackle the character Emilia, the wife of the sinister Iago, for her debut in José Limón’s masterpiece, The Moor’s Pavane.
Kudo danced two performances in Ann Arbor, Michigan, and two in Germany. Carla Maxwell, artistic director of the Limón Dance Company, said, “It’s a tough role and she had excellent success with her debut. She is going to grow into a fine Emilia because her movement qualities have a deep power, an ability to hold stillness, and a physical lushness.”
Based on Othello, Shakespeare’s tragedy, The Moor’s Pavane was choreographed by Limón in 1949. He streamlined the cast to four: the Moor, The Moor’s Wife, His Friend, and His Friend’s Wife, called Emilia in the play. Limón performed The Moor for 20 years and modern dance icon Pauline Koner danced Emilia. “The genius of The Moor’s Pavane is that it functions like a string quartet,” says Maxwell. Every role, every step, is essential.
Kudo, who grew up in Westchester, New York, entered Emerson College in Boston before transferring to the Boston Conservatory of Music to train with celebrated Limón dancer Jennifer Scanlon. She also studied Graham technique with the indomitable Yuriko and later became immersed in the Horton and Dunham techniques at The Ailey School.
A petite dynamo of a concert dancer, Kudo dealt with the intense drama of The Moor’s Pavane by reading Othello and tapping her technical resources. Sarah Stackhouse, another former Limón luminary, told her to think about Renaissance art. Jacopo Pontormo’s painting “Deposition,” says Kudo, “put images in my mind of a soft and voluptuous woman. I loved the angling of the heads, the gestures, how they held their hands, their postures, and the delicate lines of their bodies.”
Kudo had to adapt to the strict musical phrasing and rhythm of the movement. Her dynamic needed to be strong but not emotive. “The most challenging part was a simple tendu back,” Kudo says. “It is then that I realize that I am playing a major part in this drama, right before Desdemona’s death.”
Wrestling with love, devotion, deception, and eventually murder, Kudo was able to capture the essence of this wicked universal chamber piece. “So much is at the core of this work,” says Kudo. “As a performing artist I’m replenished by Limón’s creation.”