Dancers fly across the floor, with arms meticulously formed into right angles. At a midway point, each artist merges toward a center circle that liquidly morphs into elegant couples moving in diagonal formations from corner to corner. The slower, adage section has lifts that continue the same angled feel, adding a gentleness. Dancers are carried sideways, are tossed up in the air, only to drop to the lowest of lows on the floor. Finally, when exhaustion starts to take over, the entire cast rallies their strength for the third and final movement in a climactic burst of energy and joy. The dancers are smiling at and with each other.
This is Dance Now! Miami (DNM) in rehearsal at its home, the Little Haiti Cultural Center, preparing for its upcoming Thursday, May 12, Friday, May 13, and Saturday, May 14 performances in Palm Beach, Broward and Miami-Dade counties. The piece they are rehearsing is José Limón’s “The Waldstein Sonata.”
After the run, DNM rehearsal director, Allyn Ginns-Ayers, confirms, among other things, that "the lift is on two" as she responds to the notes given by DNM Co-Artistic Directors Hannah Baumgarten and Diego Salterini. The "Waldstein" piece is as much about community as it is about individuals. Most of Limón’s choreography manifests itself in movement portraying emotion or narrative.
"Waldstein" is a piece that is about the music. The dance and movement is "in" the music. The dancers show it, the viewers feel it.
“In ‘Waldstein,” Baumgarten says, “the essence of human community shines through again and again.”
It is not only an inspirational and exuberant piece, "Waldstein" is the backbone of a collaborative partnership between DNM and the New York-based, Limón Dance Company. For each of the three performances in South Florida, "Waldstein" will feature artists from DNM dancing alongside and with artists from the Limón Dance Company.
Both companies have worked with répétiteur, Nancy Jordan, to ensure that the piece was staged precisely the same for each organization and that the "merging" of the two companies would be seamless. To continue the partnership, in November DNM will travel to New York to perform with the Limón company to mirror the performances that are being presented here in South Florida.
The Limón Dance Company was founded in 1946 by José Limón and American modern dance pioneer, Doris Humphrey. Known the world over, Limón created a company that expressed emotion through movement. He ignited universal emotions that were tangible and comprehensible through dance.
“José Limón and the Limón company is one of the founding voices of modern dance, expressing the human experience through movement,” says Baumgarten. “We feel honored and proud that we have created an organization that can rise to the occasion to be performing with the Limón Dance Company.”
While these will be the culminating performances for DNM’s 2021-22 season, it is just the beginning for the Limón company. After two years of pandemic challenges and no live performances, the DNM collaboration performances will be the first stop as the Limón company begins a spring tour. In a sense, the company is being unleashed to begin its live performance tour.
Baumgarten and Salterini, who are the hosts of the collaboration, agree that the energy and emotions from both companies will be high for the three performances.
“The dancers are just raring to go,” Baumgarten admits.
The Limón company is celebrating its 75th Anniversary and is under new artistic leadership.
Dante Puleio, the Artistic Director (AD) of the Limón company speaks from the Joyce Theater in New York where the Limón company is presently performing. He is excited to be touring, presenting his vision and creating new artistic experiences for the Limón company. He feels this tour and this collaboration is an introductory moment for him as an Artistic Director.
“This is particularly special. It’s my first tour as AD, and because in this, our 75th Anniversary Season, we are able to perform José’s last work — a work that he didn’t finish and that Dr. Lewis was able to complete. The Limón company has never performed the work. This collaboration with Dance Now, we are so excited and the synergy just feels so right,” Puleio says.
Puleio is speaking of Dr. Daniel Lewis, former Limón Artistic Director and the Founding Dean of the Dance Department at the New World School of the Arts who completed the "unfinished" “Waldstein Sonata” in 1975, two years after Limón’s passing.
As the story goes, toward the end of his life, Limón had the desire to choreograph to all 32 of Beethoven’s sonatas, an epic undertaking. Working at Juilliard studios, he started pulling available dancers from rehearsals to work with them and create movement. This was in 1971 and he passed away in 1972.
“Limón created all the movement,” says Salterini. “But the piece was never completely put together.”
Lewis had worked integrally with Limón and knew his movement and choreography innately. In 1975, he was commissioned by Martha Hill, then Director of Dance at Juilliard, to complete “The Waldstein Sonata.”
“As a choreographer,” Salterini continued, “I know that this is a masterpiece of choreography, the craft of choreography. It is so intricate and beautiful, so musical, so visually stunning.”
Lewis has been the overseer and often the stager of DNM’s five Limón works. To be performing ‘Waldstein’ jointly with the Limón Dance Company and doing Limón’s final piece, as completed by Lewis, is a culmination indeed.
Nicholas Ruscica, a dancer from the Limón company, explains why the Limón technique resonates to him. “Limón technique is really sensation based and honors the principles that José made a staple of his works - like breath, fall, recovery, suspension, opposition — these things exist in our life.”
“He was usually such a narrative creator,” Ruscica continues. “But this sonata, the ‘Waldstein’ was just a celebration of the music. It’s really us in synchronicity with the music.”
Ruscica says he is thrilled to be doing this joint performance.
“I’m excited to be exchanging with other dancers,” he says. “I personally think the blending of these two groups is going to feel natural.”
Ginns-Ayers has a personal relationship with the Limón technique and his ballets.
She says, “Learning Limón’s technique through Dr. Lewis has been a large part of my growth in DNM. Performing this piece that was completed by Dr. Lewis and with the Limón Company is a perfect way to celebrate modern and contemporary dance in today’s world. The dance is inside of the music and the music is so beautiful. It’s just very special.”
The collaborative performances will also reprise Baumgarten and Salterini’s “Annusim, What is Hidden is Never Lost” performed by DNM. It is a ballet that audiences continue to request with an original score from long-time collaborator Federico Bonacossa and vocals from local Sephardic singer Susana Behar and depicts the rarely told story in Jewish history of a decree. In Portugal in 1947 all Jews were to be baptized to become “New Christians" even though they continued worshipping in their Jewish faith.
DNM will also present “La Malinche,” a Limón classic that Lewis previously staged for DNM. "Malinche" is based on the real-life tale of a Nahua woman who was an indispensable interpreter, advisor and intermediary for the Spanish conquistador, Hernán Cortés. She became a larger-than-life, controversial figure who played a key role in the Spanish conquest of the Aztec Empire. Initially known to be a traitor, legend has it that ‘La Malinche’ is now considered a symbolic mother figure of the new Mexican people. Limón, of Mexican descent, portrays the legendary and emotional tale through his movement.
In these shared performances, the Limón Dance Company will present Limón’s 1967 “Psalm” inspired by Andre Schwarz-Bart's novel, “ The Last of the Just.” It portrays the Jewish tradition of 36 Just Men who have a deep connection to their spirituality and who carry the burdens of the world.
“It is said that if these individuals didn’t exist, the world would be poisoned by all of the sins,” Ruscica says.
Puleio says this is the first time in 40 years that the original music is being used as originally conceived by Limón.
“It’s outside of what you might expect from a modern dance company with the Hebrew text, the cantor singing - it’s a really interesting work.” says Puleio.
The Limón group will be in Miami for one full week. They will not only be rehearsing, but have numerous masterclasses and performances at public schools.
A highlight is an open public class in Limón technique given by Puleio on Sunday, May 8 from 2 to 4 p.m. The class will be followed by a short performance and a panel discussion about José Limón, the company's history and dance reconstructions.
As Puleio says, ”With the two companies together, these performances, this partnership will really ignite that sense of the collaborative spirit and we’ll create magic.”
Salterini concurs, “I hope the audience feels that they are dancing with the dancers on the stage.”
Limón Dance Company joins Dance NOW! Miami for Program III of the season.
- Thursday, May 12 at 8 p.m. at the Duncan Theatre, 4200 S Congress Ave, Lake Worth.
- Friday, May 13 at 7:30 p.m. at Broward Center for the Performing Arts Amaturo Theater, 201 SW Fifth Avenue, Fort Lauderdale.
- Saturday, May 14 at 8 p.m. at Aventura Arts & Cultural Center, 3385 NE 188th Street, Aventura.
$50 reserved seating, $20 for students with valid ID.
Advance tickets and information on current COVID rules for all venues at www.dancenowmiami.org/events/limon.
For more info: www.dancenowmiami.org. (305) 975-8489 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Video promo for joint Limón-Dance Now performances at:www.youtu.be/RgtxKnUcMv0