Theater archives

Triumphs on Thin Ice


The Limón Dance Company’s 55th-anniversary gala celebrated four remarkable dancers who’ll perform during the company’s Joyce season through Sunday (Risa Steinberg and Doug Varone return as guest artists). In “Envy,” from the 1940-41 Roads to Hell by Eleanor King (Limón’s onetime colleague in the Humphrey-Weidman Company), Steinberg superbly mocks invisible rivals—even laughing malevolently—and grabs at whatever she sees. In “Wrath,” her very hips utter imprecations, and she smiles as she beckons, spider to fly. For Nina Watt and himself, Varone has made Short Story, a heartbreaking version of what I think of as his haunted-couple dance. He and Watt never step beyond a square of light, as they patiently fumble into and slip out of potential embraces. You’re acutely aware of how close they come to each other without really fusing or ever understanding why they can’t connect. Roxane D’Orléans Juste scampers and skips irresistibly, playing joyful games with quick footsteps, in an excerpt, “Oneero,” from Donald McKayle’s Heartbeats to music by Manos Hajodakis.

The company maintains a tricky balance. Dances by José Limón are its lifeblood, yet it has to fuel the repertory with new works. Sadly, only two Limón piece are on view this season, but Invention, by his mentor, Doris Humphrey, is a fascinating revival. To Humphrey, dancing was a profoundly human activity. In the 1949 trio, set to piano music by Norman Lloyd (capably played by David LaMarche), a man dances exuberantly, (you can see Limón’s lineaments through Raphaël Boumaïla’s bold performance). As in Humphrey’s earlier, great Day on Earth, a woman (Mary Ford) picks up his movements and, in compatible dialogue, shows him new ones. His duet with Kimiye Corwin is more somber. But in the final allegro, the women hold hands, and the three dance together—free and loving equals.

It’s interesting how choreographers adapt to this troupe’s gift for curving shapes and breath-caught suspensions. McKayle, the company’s “artistic mentor,” shows their nuanced attack and dramatic flair in Crossroads, to the mellow jazz of the James Newton Ensemble (playing live at the gala). An excerpt from Billy Siegenfeld’s If Winter (like Crossroads, a New York premiere) to classic pop tunes, shows squads of dancers rushing in curving paths, cutting through in diagonals, pausing now and then to swing their hips. During the season, the company also offers works by Mark Haim and Murray Louis. Limón would approve.

We flock to Pina Bausch’s kitchen to see what she’s cooked up. The ingredients are always similar, even though, for over a decade, she’s been honoring different locales where her Tanztheater Wuppertal performs. Masurca Fogo (Fiery Mazurka), which her company recently brought to BAM, hymns Portugal and its onetime empire. We hear fados, see a rocky seaside cliff on which women in bathing suits sun themselves. Ballroom partners sidestep in line, swinging their hips with glazed dignity. In one marvelous scene, the dancers erect a shanty and crowd in; we glimpse rowdily sambaing couples through a small window and feel the heat of a Brazilian favela.

However, local color never contravenes the trademark incidents that stud Bausch’s long collages. We know a performer will address front-row spectators pleadingly or scornfully, or perhaps recount a memory; a man, or men, will subject a female to something painful or degrading; women will click around on high-heeled shoes; a shoulder strap may break. There’s a long list. Outdoors and inside merge, as they do here in Peter Pabst’s seaside within a white room. And yet, we want to see how she’s going to kink familiar events this time, knowing she’ll never provide anything less than a terrifically entertaining, irony-laced evening.

Within the bizarre communities she creates, someone always appears to help or hinder someone else. In the fairly mellow Masurca Fogo, Ruth Amarante exhales orgasmically into a microphone as men pass her carefully around, but only when Michael Strecker seats her on a chair and whirls it through the air does she shriek her climax. When small Rainer Behr wishes to kiss tall Julie Anne Stanzak, Strecker hoists him up. While enchanting Regina Advento is parading about as a sweetly satisfied beauty queen, two men support her so she can fake push-ups. Two hold a plastic sheet folded into a water-laden channel, so that others can belly-slide gleefully through it.

There’s some wonderful dancing, once a rarity in Bauschland. Like Die Fensterputzer, her Hong Kong tribute, Masurca Fogo is studded with solo dance variations on the same material, in which the body bends softly and extravagantly, and the dancers’ arms slip through and lace around each other. In a splendid moment near the end (before the choreographer starts recycling everything ad nauseam), Beatrice Libonati’s small dancing figure is engulfed by filmed waves crashing around her, as if the passions Bausch dissects so coolly were finally out of control.

Watching ice-skating can be liberating for a dance critic. An arabesque isn’t a stationary flowering pose; it coasts from one end of the rink to another—a ship in full sail. Pirouettes corkscrew up and down at warp speed. During Ice Theatre of New York’s season at Chelsea Piers the week before last, spinner extraordinaire Lucinda Ruh could be jazzy and hoydenish in Kurt Browning’s Think or serious in Toller Cranston’s tribute to himself. But what gets an audience whooping are those turns; she revolves on one leg, deepening a back bend until she looks like a question mark.

Competition skating inevitably affects this art form. The audience expects tricks; some of ITNY’s choreographers gratify this urge, others evade it, still others straddle the fence. Marina and Marat Akbarov carry on the tradition of adagio on the glide, swooping lyrically into complicated maneuvers: She ends up upside-down, one hand braced on his skate, or supports herself by gripping his calf between her legs. On the other hand, in Requiem, Johann Renvall (formerly of American Ballet Theatre) sets a trio skating serenely in circles that gradually tighten and quicken; Alberto Del Saz, ex-Nikolais dancer, binds three women together in stretchy white cloth; and Douglas Webster, the company’s associate artistic director, uses music by Gustav Mahler for Departures. Florentine Houdiniere and five other women skate in lovely, musically sensitive patterns, now looping around one another, now breaking away. Ice-dance choreographers face a unique problem: It’s hard to calculate exactly a skater’s stopping place. Maybe that’s why they rarely use counterpoint.

David Liu, a superb skater-performer, excels both as a frustrated businessman in a smart solo, Ritual in 7’s, made with JoAnna Mendl Shaw, and in JoJo Starbuck’s Gershwin Theme, as a devil-may-care athlete, undefeated by a triple air turn landing in arabesque. What was hard: getting up afterward and not being able to glide all the way to the exit.