Keeping Limón's Legacy Alive
An international dance festival honors his company's past and looks to the future.
“Do not bother to walk on stage unless you have the power to dominate it, and make it yours entirely," wrote José Limón in An Unfinished Memoir. That's exactly what a group of dancers plans on doing to celebrate the 70th anniversary of his legendary Limón Dance Company during the José Limón International Dance Festival, October 13–25 at The Joyce Theater in New York.
Guest artists from five companies will join Limón, including Royal Danish Ballet, Coreoarte, Bayerisches Staatsballett, sjDANCEco and American Repertory Ballet, along with eight schools and colleges from the U.S. and abroad. Fifteen of the choreographer's masterworks will be performed, from his first surviving piece Chaconne (1942) to Carlota, which premiered two months before his death in 1972. Also featured are well-known works The Moor's Pavane, There is a Time and Missa Brevis. “I'm hoping this festival will not only bring awareness to the scope of José's work, but also show how other dancers are interpreting it," says Carla Maxwell, who danced under Limón and became artistic director of the company in 1978. “When I think about his legacy, it's much more than his dances. He invented a new dance language."
Maxwell estimates Limón's entire output of choreography, including what he created for the company, Broadway, Juilliard (where he taught) and other dance institutions, totals 104 works. Since his death, the company has also commissioned new works and acquisitions from such choreographers as Lar Lubovitch, Murray Louis, Jirí Kylián, Doug Varone and Garth Fagan, a change that keeps Limón moving forward while honoring its past. “We were a repertory company from the inception," says Maxwell. “Limón invited his mentor, Doris Humphrey, to be his first artistic director. Together they created a community of strong individuals."
This fall, the José Limón Dance Foundation, which oversees the company as well as licensing and education, began a residency at Dance Theatre of Harlem, sharing office, rehearsal and storage space in an effort to streamline both organizations. In May 2016, the company will tour to South Africa, Zambia and Mozambique as part of a monthlong cross-cultural exchange through DanceMotion USA.
Maxwell is preparing to step down as artistic director of the company and become legacy director of the foundation. The board has begun the process of looking for her replacement. For now, however, the focus remains on celebrating 70 years. “We have a vibrant community of artists that knew José and are working with me to insure his legacy continues for many more generations," says Maxwell. “That's the way we will pass the torch." —Giannella M. Garrett
Jennifer Kahn knew the theater industry could do better. As a professional stage manager for 17 years she worked on regional, off-Broadway and Broadway shows. Nearly each time a show closed, something unsettling happened: "I would watch them throw away our shows. All of the beautiful artwork by my friends in the paint shop would go in the trash." The elaborate backdrops? Gone.
But she had an idea: What if the material used in the backdrops and legs could be upcycled into something new? And what if theater lovers could literally keep a piece of a beloved show?
"The show must go on" may be a platitude we use to get through everything from costume malfunctions to stormy moods. But when it came to overcoming a literal hurricane, Houston Ballet was buoyed by this mantra to go from devastated to dancing in a matter of weeks—with the help of Harlequin Floors, Houston Ballet's longstanding partner who sprang into action to build new floors in record time.
For decades the name Alicia Alonso has been virtually synonymous with Ballet Nacional de Cuba, the company she co-founded in Havana in 1948. Alonso died on October 17, just shy of what would have been her 99th birthday. In recent years, she had stepped back from day-to-day decision-making in the company. As if preparing for the future, in January, the company's leading ballerina, 42-year-old Viengsay Valdés, was named deputy director, a job that seems to encompass most of the responsibilities of a traditional director. Now, presumably, she will step into her new role as director of the company. Her debut as curator of the repertory comes in November, when the troupe will perform three mixed bills selected by her at the Gran Teatro de la Habana Alicia Alonso. The following has been translated from a conversation conducted in Spanish, Valdés' native tongue.
New York City Ballet principal Sara Mearns wasn't sure she was strong enough. A ballerina who has danced many demanding full-length and contemporary roles, she was about to push herself physically more than she thought was possible.
"I said, 'I can't. My body won't,' " she says. "He told me, 'Yes, it will.' "
She wasn't working with a ballet coach, but with personal trainer Joel Prouty, who was asking her to do squats with a heavier barbell than she'd ever used.