STORY WRITTEN BY TARA LYNN JOHNSON
For Digital First Media
For seven decades, The Limón Dance Company has explored what it means to be human through movement. They’re coming to Philadelphia on their 70th anniversary tour to share three of the company’s classic creations.
José Limón was a choreographer originally from Mexico who came to the United States as a boy in 1918. Considered one of Mexico’s greatest artists, he founded the Limón Dance Company in 1946.
Carla Maxwell, Artistic Director of the Limón Dance Company and José Limón Dance Foundation, danced and worked with him. She recently spoke about the experience and the upcoming performance as part of the Dance Affiliates’ NextMove series at Philadelphia’s Prince Theater in an email interview.
She’s eager for people to see the performance.
“His work is exquisitely crafted, with impeccable form, musicality and clarity of purpose,” she said. “His intention was to create work that was theater with a capital T. But in so doing, he never lost the ability to allow his work to be accessible to a wide range of audiences.”
The works reveal Limón’s Mexican roots, but so much more than that, too.
“Some of his dances have specific reference to Mexican history, but the majority of his dances focus on his experiences as a citizen living in the U.S. and working to integrate himself into a new culture,” she said. “His dances are living documents that still move and inspire people today.”
Maxwell said she learned a lot just by watching him and was inspired by him.
“José had a great sense of discipline and the ability to focus his mind completely on what he wanted to do,” she said. “He was also a very passionate man and dance was his life — creating, performing and offering his work to the public. It was his way of giving back to others.”
She felt freedom dancing with him.
“He encouraged dancers to throw themselves into their work and not worry if it was right, to try something and not judge ourselves in the process,” she said. “This gave us a sense of freedom to explore and be ourselves.”
That’s still the case today, all these years later. The company is a group of soloists who work together like an orchestra or choir does. Everyone is important and has their role to play to make the whole work, she said. The differences coming together make “the magic happen,” she said.
At the Philadelphia shows, the company will perform three Limón masterworks: “Mazurkas,” a suite of dances to Chopin’s music, created as a tribute to the heroic spirit of the Polish people in the aftermath of WWII; “The Moor’s Pavane,” perhaps Limón’s most famous work based on the story of “Othello”; and “The Winged,” a fanciful journey into all things that fly, both real and imaginary.
Limón used music from historic as well as contemporary composers and a variety of themes in his works. No matter what the theme or the music, he always focused on humanity and life.
“He was drawn to the challenge of depicting the struggles of human beings or celebrating the profound beauty he saw in the world,” she said. “José’s work is an exploration of the human heart.”