SJ Dance Co at San Jose’s California Theatre October 14-15,2011

29 Oct

San Jose State University (SJSU) enjoys an active dance department, headed by Fred Mathews, a member of Jose Limon’s Dance Company with its principal teacher, Gary Masters, another Limon alumni. What could be more logical for them not only to teach Limon’s technique, but to revive signature pieces created by Limon for his company?

SJ Dance Co., formed nine years ago, has danced at the restored California Theatre in downtown San Jose for the past three, a handsome edifice with thick carpets; it is also home to the San Jose Opera and Ballet San Jose’s annual school program headed by Lise La Cour.

This year Limon was represented with his 1958 masterpiece “Missa Brevis” choreographed to Zoltan Kodaly”s Missa Brevis in Temore Belli [A Short Mass in Time of War]; “Dance in the Sun” by Daniel Nagrin solo was included to showcase guest artists Raphael Boumaila, appearing in “Missa Brevis.”

Premieres by Gary Masters, Heather Cooper and Maria Basile formed the remainder of the program, “Velocities,” “Close” and “Ancestral Threads”; all enjoyed the benefit of the San Jose Chamber Orchestra. All three choreographers teach on the SJSU dance faculty.

Michael Touchi’s Tango Barroco gave the music for “Velocities”, a three-part work utilizing improvisation and involving the nine dancer company. Heather Cooper’s “Close” employed two dancers and Maria Basile’s “Ancestral Threads” utilized parts of Ludwig Van Beethoven’s second movement from his Seventh Symphony performed by five dancers. Cooper and Basile are accomplished dancers with substantial credits.

“Dance in the Sun,” a refreshingly brief solo, saw Boumaila arriving on stage
with jacket slung over one shoulder, striding with lungs expanding in sunlit open air. The piece is a brief, explicit solo of relish and jaunty celebration of out-of-doors, punctuated by low, distinct grand jetes, and torso movement as the body responds to the warm environment. At the end Boumaila picks up the jacket and strides off stage, a feel good piece for dancer and audience alike.

“Missa Brevis”, Jose Limon’s urgent interpretation of Zoltan Kodaly’s work of the same name, was choreographed the spring of 1958; Limon’s colleague Doris Humphrey died the following December. How much her approaching death influenced Limon is sheer speculation, but the circles, bow-and-arrow like leaping diagonals, the forward bends, the prevalence of urgently moving circles all speak of an inner majesty and acceptance of life’s great mysteries and rites of passage. This was particularly apparent when first one and then two other figures were hoisted upstage center, suggesting the Jesus’ crucifixion between two thieves. Limon’s affinity for Roman Catholic rites elevated them as much as they may have cleansed his spirit. The thrust of the arms and hands in those leaping diagonals, and forward bends as the women circled, moving all the while, emanated an extraordinary satisfaction in their utter simplicity; at moments the feet collectively fluttered in place.

“Missa Brevis” started and ended with Boumaila [Limon figure] standing alone downstage right, looking at the dancers in a circle, upstage left, the company’s nine dancers augmented by thirteen others. One cannot help but feel honored to
have been witness to the work as well as thanking SJ Dance Company for presenting it.

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