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Jose Limon

José Limón gave a convocation address at the Juilliard School of Music October 5, 1966 called “Dancers are Musicians are Dancers”.  In this he addresses that “…musicians are dancers, and that dancers can be good dancers only when they are also good musicians.”  (“Dancers are Musicians are Dancers” 9)  From this wisdom, Limón pulls from his background of a musician father who gave him an interest in classical style music.  He explains how dance and music are a part of being human since the beginning of time.  It is part of our life everyday.  We use both music and dance to celebrate and express ourselves.  Limón continues on by describing how his mentor, Doris Humphrey, was able to dance free from music by choreographing works that were without musical accompaniment.  Dance created its own music.  “In rejecting metronomic tempi of the musicians, she searched for the rhythms and phrases inherent in the human entity with its breathing, its muscular dynamics and emotive range.” (“Dancers are Musicians are Dancers” 11)  Later in his speech, Limón explains the relationship between choreography and musical accompaniment.  He says that the audience shouldn’t be aware of the music during a dance, if the choreography was good enough.  The audience can tell it was terrible in any way or every way if they seek solace in the music.  “Music for dance is successful and effective only when it has been so skillfully utilized that you are not aware of it as a separate component or ingredient.  It has blended so perfectly that you are not aware where the dance ceases to be and the music begins.”  (“Dancers are Musicians are Dancers” 12)  The dancer and the musician must work together.  A musician must read a dancer’s body movements to make the music fit and the dancer must adjust his or herself to the music.  This is very important in the art of dance, Limón explains.  He believed it was important to have an understanding in other artistic disciplines in order to be a good dancer.  He has experience first hand to know this, as he himself was frequently called a “Renaissance man”.
As a dancer and choreographer, José Limón strove to exploit the human condition.  Through his technique, he used breathing and gravity to create powerful and intense pieces.  He was extremely graceful and controlled in his movements, many critics say.  As for his “late” start to dance, he was tremendously experimental in his movements.  He did not care about pointing his toes or straightening his legs or care what the movements were “supposed” to look like.  He wanted to push his body to see what it could do.  After time however, he learnt the disciplines of controlled muscles and combined it with his daring.  He would often involve Dionysian and Apollonian characters.  He believed it added interest and constant conflict between a protagonist and antagonist.
In regards to his technique, it is based around playing with gravity.  Movements that seem as if they are completely free followed by movements that are heavy, earth-bound.  The constant and rhythmic rise and fall of weightless versus weighted gives the effect of breathing.  This has a sense of life and humanness to his works.
The major techniques, most of which he learnt from his mentor, were fall, using weight, recovery and rebound, suspension, and isolations.  All of these techniques involved separating one part of the body from the rest and making it do something different from the other part, yet making it stay connected.
In class exercises of Limón’s modern dance differed from that of ballet.  Some of the positions and movements were similar, but without the barre.  They also included many more “awkward” positions.  Slouching, and bending parts of the body followed by making it straight and upright.
José Limón’s contributions to the art of modern dance was incredible and prolific.  He choreographed just under one hundred pieces throughout his career.  A good portion of which he performed in himself.  Limón and his mentors, his “family” of Isadora Duncan, Harald Kreutzberg, Doris Humphrey, Charles Weidman, Ruth St Dennis, and Ted Shawn, explored and discovered a new way of movement and dance completely different from anything that had previously existed.  It was not about being perfect and pretty, like ballet.  It was ugly, yet in that ugliness arose a beauty that had not been seen before.  It was expressive, strong, and passionate.  The body moved in a natural way.  It created abstract lines and shapes that were imperfect by the standards of ballet.
Limón’s modern dance reflected humanity, as humans are imperfect.  Humans are expressive and strong and passionate.  That is what makes Limón’s dances enjoyed by a wide variety of people.  The audience can relate to the movements and feel a connection.  They understand the struggles and joys shown through his choreography.  That in itself makes it beautiful.
José Limón’s pieces continue to be performed in repertoires around the world.  His work continues to bring in audiences and connect with them.  His company, the José Limón Dance Company, continues to perform his classic pieces as well as some new works.  The company also tours and teaches classes to school children.  His legacy as a great leader continues through his timeless works which continue to inspire as well as the story of his life.  José Limón is all-around inspirational.

Jose Limon

 

http://limon.org/

 

Sources:

“Jose Limon. Modern Choreographer and Dancer.” Jose Limon. Modern Choreographer and Dancer. N.p., n.d. Web. 08 Dec. 2012.

Dunbar, June. José Limón: The Artist Re-viewed. Amsterdam: Harwood Academic, 1999. Print.

Lewis, Daniel, and Lesley Farlow. The Illustrated Dance Technique of José Limón. New York: Harper & Row, 1984. Print.

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A younger José Limón

José Limón was born January 12, 1908 in Culiacán, Mexico. His influences include Isadora Duncan, Harald Kreutzberg, Doris Humphrey, Charles Weidman, Ruth St Dennis, and Ted Shawn. He was raised by a musician father and young mother. He was the eldest of many siblings.

During his early years in Mexico, Limón did not know that dance existed as a formal artform.  He was enthralled by bullfighting.  The entrances of the toreros, picadores, and matadores; their colorful costumes.  It was magical to him.

At age seven, the Limón family moved to Los Angeles.  Limón felt different from the rest of the school children and was made an outcast.  Through his education, Limón succeeded in learning english and grew to love reading.  He mostly enjoyed plays and Shakespeare.  He was known to use elaborate language in the studio with his dancers.

José Limón attended UCLA as an art major.  At age nineteen he became disenchanted with UCLA and hitchhiked to San Francisco.  He lived there for a short time doing odd jobs to save up enough money to take a boat to New York City.  Limón thought he would continue to be an artist and paint in New York, but his life was changed after a watching a Harold Kreutzberg recital.  He was enthralled and needed to start dancing.  As soon as he possibly could, he began training in Doris Humphrey’s studio.

José Limón and his mentors; Charles Weidman and Doris Humphrey

José Limón and his mentors; Charles Weidman and Doris Humphrey

During Limón’s early days at Doris Humphrey and Charles Weidman’s dance studio, something revolutionary was occurring.  Modern dance was developing. Limón sensed that he was very privileged to be a pupil of these great leaders of dance.  He stayed in their classes and in the company for ten years.  It took a lot of hard work and time in the studio for Limón to get into shape and become a dancer.  He was afraid he had discovered his love for dance too late in life.  He was determined.

Around this time, the Great Depression hit.  Limón feared the hard times of the era would creep into the sanctuary of the studio.  Instead, it inspired the art of dance to survive.  Limón began to have the urge to choreograph.  He began by dancing, simply moving around the space, by himself in the basement of the apartments where he worked the elevator.   He made dances for some of the girls he danced with and showed them in little assemblies at the studio.  They were a hit.

Limón was also in many dance productions at the Dance Repertory Theatre early in his career.  He performed in pieces mostly choreographed by Doris Humphrey and Charles Weidman.  Modern dance began to be more popular.  The company Limón danced with was asked by producers of commercial theater to do choreography for their shows. Limón was in a few of the productions on broadway.  He continued to appear in Humphrey and Weidman’s pieces as well.

Just before World War II began, Limón spent time in Bennington, Vermont.  Humphrey and Weidman had a few performances around Vermont in which Limón performed. He taught a few classes at Bennington College to fill in for a colleague and was awarded a fellowship.  This good fortune allowed him to be more inspired to create an ambitious piece.  In 1939, José Limón choreographed his first major work, Danzas Mexicanas.  It was a piece inspired by his mexican heritage and early life.  The piece was made up of five solos, increasing in intensity.

In 1940, Limón was offered the lead dancing role in George Balanchine’s Keep Off the Grass.  Previously, Limón had sworn to himself that he would not do a Broadway show again, but he was in need of money and was persuaded to be in the show.  The summer after his reappearance on Broadway, Limón worked with May O’Donnell as he felt that his association with Humphrey and Weidman’s company was over.  He moved to San Francisco.

Shortly after this, Congress enacted a law that required all aliens in the United States to fill out paperwork and receive a registration card.  With this he was subject to the draft for World War II.  There was a period of time before Limón knew definitely if he was to be drafted or not that he partnered with O’Donell and created a few pieces.  He also taught classes at some colleagues studio.  He was  invited to many dinners at his colleagues homes, mostly because they knew he didn’t have much money.

While in San Francisco, Limón realized he had left something unresolved.  His feelings for the girl who worked at the front desk of Humphrey and Weidman’s studio, Pauline Lawrence.  Limón was unsure about the relationship and didn’t think much about it as he had moved three thousand miles away from her and the studio.  She sent him a letter one day describing some shocking situation with the studio he had left.  He replied by telegram, proposing marriage.  They were married October 1941.  Lawrence went back to New York to continue work at the studio, and as a side-job, Limón worked with his old friend from school at his turkey farm.  Soon enough, Limón moved back to New York to be with his wife and rejoined Humphrey and Weidman’s studio.  He then realized that he was no longer viewed as a student, but increasingly as an equal to Humphrey.

From 1943 to 1945, Limón was drafted into the United States Army.  During this time he choreographed many pieces for the Special Services.  In 1946, he formed his own dance company with Humphrey.  The company was debuted the following year at the Balasco Theater.  For his works, Limón was called the “finest male dancer of his time” by the New York Times.  In 1949, Limón created his most famous work, which continues to be  performed world-wide, The Moor’s Pavane.  This piece is based on Shakespeare’s play, Othello.  There are four parts, The Moor, The Moor’s Wife, His Friend, and His Friend’s Wife.  These parts are formed from the characters Othello, Desdemona, Iago, and Emilia.  It structured as a court dance.  The tragedy is played out by expressive movement as José Limón’s technique, learnt and manipulated from Doris Humphrey’s teaching, uses the body’s awareness of gravity.  This gives a powerful effect.  The piece is 24 minutes long and is set to the music of Henry Purcell.  Limón received a Dance Magazine Award in 1950 for The Moor’s Pavane.  The same year, the José Limón Dance Company toured Europe, which made it the first American modern dance company to tour in Europe.

José Limón teaching a class at The Juilliard School.

José Limón teaching a class at The Juilliard School.

In 1951, Limón began teaching and choreographing at the Juilliard School.  He taught there until his death.  Limón received the Capezio Dance Award in 1964.  The same year he was appointed the Artistic Director of Lincoln Center’s American Dance Theater.  In 1968, the José Limón Dance Foundation was established as a non-profit organization dedicated to Limón’s work.  Limón was diagnosed with prostate cancer in 1970.  His wife and artistic assistant was also diagnosed with cancer and died in 1971. His final work, Carlota, was premiered in 1972 and he died shortly thereafter.

http://limon.org/

Sources:

Limón, José, and Lynn Garafola. José Limón: An Unfinished Memoir. Hanover, NH: University of New England, 1998. Print.

“Jose Limon. Modern Choreographer and Dancer.” Jose Limon. Modern Choreographer and Dancer. N.p., n.d. Web. 08 Dec. 2012.