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José Limón

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José Limón
Limón performing Mexican Suite in 1944. Photograph by Barbara Morgan
José Arcadio Limón

(1908-01-12)January 12, 1908
Culiacán, Mexico
DiedDecember 2, 1972(1972-12-02) (aged 64)
Occupation(s)Modern dancer, choreographer
Years active1929–1969
Former groupsJosé Limón Dance Company (now the Limón Dance Company)
DancesThe Moor's Pavane (1949)

José Arcadio Limón (January 12, 1908 – December 2, 1972) was a dancer and choreographer from Mexico and who developed what is now known as 'Limón technique'. In the 1940s, he founded the José Limón Dance Company (now the Limón Dance Company), and in 1968 he created the José Limón Foundation to carry on his work.

In his choreography, Limón spoke to the complexities of human life as experienced through the body. His dances feature large, visceral gestures — reaching, bending, pulling, grasping — to communicate emotion. Inspired in part by his teacher Doris Humphrey's and Charles Weidman's theories about the importance of body weight and dynamics, his own Limón technique emphasizes the rhythms of falling and recovering balance and the importance of good breathing to maintaining flow in a dance. He also utilized the dance vocabulary developed by both Doris Humphrey and Charles Weidman, which aimed at demonstrating emotion through dance in a way that was much less strict and stylized than ballet as well as used movements of the body that felt most natural and went along with gravity.[1]

Limón's most well-known work is The Moor's Pavane (1949), based on Shakespeare's Othello, which won a major award.[2] Other works were inspired by subjects as diverse as the McCarthy hearings (The Traitor) and the life of La Malinche, who served as interpreter for Hernán Cortés. Limón generally sets his dances to music, choosing composers ranging from Ludwig van Beethoven and Frederic Chopin to Arnold Schoenberg and Heitor Villa-Lobos.



José Arcadio Limón was born January 12, 1908, in Culiacán,[3] Mexico, the eldest of twelve children. In 1915, his family moved to Los Angeles, California.[3]

After graduating from Lincoln High School (Lincoln Heights, California), Limón attended UCLA as an art major. In 1928 he moved and studied at the New York School of Design. In 1929, he was inspired to dance after attending one of Harald Kreutzberg and Yvonne Georgi's performances and enrolled in the Humphrey-Weidman school.[4]

Early career


In 1930, Limón first performed on Broadway,[5] and later that same year he choreographed his first dance, "Etude in D Minor", a duet with Letitia Ide. Limón recruited Ide and schoolmates Eleanor King and Ernestine Stodelle to form "The Little Group". From 1932 to 1933, Limón made two more Broadway appearances, in the musical revue Americana and in Irving Berlin's As Thousands Cheer, choreographed by Charles Weidman. Limón also tried his hand at choreography at Broadway's New Amsterdam Theatre. Limón made several more appearances throughout the next few years in shows such as Humphrey's New Dance, Theatre Piece, With my Red Fires, and Weidman's Quest.

In 1937, Limón was chosen to be a Bennington Fellow. At the Bennington Festival at Mills College in 1939, Limón first own work was exhibited, titled Danzas Mexicanas.[3] After five years, however, Limón would return to Broadway to star as a featured dancer in Keep Off the Grass under the choreographer George Balanchine.

In 1941, Limón left the Humphrey-Weidman company to work with May O'Donnell. They co-choreographed several pieces together, such as War Lyrics and Curtain Riser. On October 3, 1942, Limón married Pauline Lawrence, a founding member and the manager of the Humphrey-Weidman company. The partnership with O'Donnell dissolved the following year, and Limón created work for a program at Humphrey-Weidman.

In 1943, Limón's made his final appearance on Broadway in Balanchine's Rosalinda, a piece he performed with Mary Ellen Moylan. He spent the rest of that year creating dances on American and folk themes at the Studio Theatre before being drafted into the Army in April 1943. During this time, he collaborated with composers Frank Loesser and Alex North, choreographing several works for the U.S. Army Special Services.[3] The most well known among these is Concerto Grosso.

José Limón Dance Company


Attaining American citizenship in 1946, Limón formed the Limón Dance Company.[3] When Limón began his company, he asked Humphrey to be the artistic director,[3] making it the first modern dance company to have an artistic director who was not also the founder. The company had its formal debut at Bennington College, playing such pieces as Doris Humphrey's Lament and The Story of Mankind.[citation needed] Among the first company members were Pauline Koner, Lucas Hoving, Betty Jones, Ruth Currier, and Limón himself. Dancer and choreographer Louis Falco also danced with the José Limón Dance Company from 1960 to 1970, and Falco starred opposite to Rudolph Nureyev in Limon's Moor's Pavane on Broadway from 1974 to 1975.

While working with Humphrey, Limón developed his repertory and established the principles of the style that he was to become the Limón technique. By 1947, the company had reached New York, debuting at the Belasco Theatre with Humphrey's Day on Earth.[3] In 1948, the company first appeared at the Connecticut College American Dance Festival and would return each summer for many years.[3] Limón choreographed The Moor's Pavane in 1949, and it received the Dance Magazine Award for the year's most outstanding choreography.[3] In the spring of 1950, Limón and his group appeared in Paris with Ruth Page, becoming the first American modern dance company to appear in Europe.

In 1951, Limón joined the faculty of The Juilliard School,[3] where a new dance division had been developed. He also accepted an invitation to Mexico City's Instituto Nacional de Bellas Artes, where he created six works. Between 1953 and 1956, he choreographed a number of shows and created roles in Humphrey's Ruins and Visions and Ritmo Jondo. In 1954, the Limón Company was one of the first to take advantage of the U.S. State Department's International Exchange Program with a company tour to South America.[3] The company later embarked on a five-month tour of Europe and the Near East and, again, to South America and Central America. It was during this time that Limón received his second Dance Magazine Award (1957).[3]

In 1956, Limón choreographed The Emperor Jones, which was loosely based on Eugene O'Neill's play of the same title (see The Emperor Jones) and was set to music by Heitor Villa-Lobos.[6] Following the premier of the work and subsequent restagings by Limón, there was some controversy surrounding the use of blackface for the role of Brutus Jones (the African American prisoner who eventually takes the title of the tyrant Emperor Jones).[7] In 1958, following a US State Department funded tour of The Emperor Jones in Poland, Limón was asked by a Polish official if he had been permitted to perform The Emperor Jones in blackface in the United States. He responded to this query by writing that "Emperor Jones was first of all a work of art, and I hoped a good one, and that even if it were in defiance of prevalent political and social usages, no one would or could prohibit its performance."[8] In this instance, the US government used Limón's work and its use of blackface as a response to international critics of its race relations by using art as a form of free speech free from sociopolitical constraints and one in which Limón was overtly complicit.[8]

In 1958, Doris Humphrey, who had been the artistic director for the Limón Company, died and Limón took over her position. Between 1958 and 1960, Limón choreographed with Pauline Koner.[9]

In 1962, the company returned to Central Park as the opening performance to New York's Shakespeare Festival. The next year, under sponsorship of the U.S. State Department, he toured the Far East for twelve weeks, choreographing The Deamon to a score by Paul Hindemith, who conducted the première.

In 1964, he went on to receive the Capezio Award and was appointed the artistic director of the American Dance Theatre at Lincoln Center.[3] The following year, Limón appeared in an National Education Telecast|NET special titled The Dance Theater of José Limón.[10]

In 1967, after performing with the company at Washington Cathedral, Limón received a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts. He and his company were also invited to perform at the White House for President Lyndon B. Johnson and King Hassan II of Morocco.[9]

Limón's final appearances onstage as a dancer were in 1969, when he performed in The Traitor and The Moor's Pavane at the Brooklyn Academy of Music.[9]

In 1970, Limón was diagnosed with prostate cancer. In the last years of his life, despite this illness, he choreographed and filmed a solo dance interpretation for CBS. In 1971, he founded the little-known Jose Limón Philadelphia Dance Theater, originally intended to become a second company. In December 1972, at the age of 64, he died of cancer.[11]

José Limón Foundation and Limón technique


In 1968, Limón incorporated the José Limón Foundation to continue his legacy as a choreographer, and in 2008 it received the National Medal for the Arts.[3] In 1985, the Limón Institute was formed as an arm of the foundation that oversees licensing of his dances and teaching of what is now known as "Limón technique".[3] According to the Limón Institute, the technique "emphasizes the natural rhythms of fall and recovery and the interplay between weight and weightlessness to provide dancers with an organic approach to movement that easily adapts to a range of choreographic styles."[12]

José Limón considered Isadora Duncan, Harald Kreutzberg, Doris Humphrey, and Charles Weidman as important influences on his style of dance.[citation needed] It was after seeing Humphrey perform in Inquest (1945) that Limón decided to focus his choreography on showing the beauty and tragedy of human life rather than on entertaining people.[citation needed] His technique was informed by Humphrey's ideas about the dynamics of body weight as the body rose, fell, and remained in suspension during a dance.[13] He encouraged students to see their bodies as complex instruments — using the simile of an orchestra — and to strive for clarity and expressiveness of movement without tension.[13] He paid particular attention to proper breathing because it enabled continuously flowing motion.[13]

Limón technique was disseminated during his life and after his death by teachers such as Aaron Osborne, a former member of the Limón company who taught his technique in the 1980s. Dance companies such as the Doug Varone and Dancers company continue to teach Limón's style of dancing. Limón's own company is still active under the shortened name Limon Dance Company,[3] with the express purpose of maintaining the Limón technique and repertory.[14]

Honors and legacy


Limón received a number honorary doctorates in his lifetime, including from Wesleyan University, the University of North Carolina, Oberlin College, and Colby College.

In 1973, the José Limón Collection was given to the New York Public Library Dance Collection by Charles Tomlinson.

In 1988, the José Limón National Dance Award was created in his honor to recognize outstanding figures of contemporary and modern dance.[15]

The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts presented a retrospective exhibition on his life and work in 1996, and in 1997 he was inducted into the National Museum of Dance and Hall of Fame.[3]

In 2003, Limón was named one of America's "irreplaceable Dance Treasures" by the Dance Heritage Coalition.[3] In 2012, he was chosen to appear on a U.S. postage stamp in honour of his contribution to the art of dance.[3]

Several books about Limón and his technique have been published, including The Illustrated Dance Technique of José Limón (1984). His autobiographical writings appeared in edited form in 1999 under the title An Unfinished Memoir.[3]


Year Title Notes
1930 Etude in D Minor
1930 Bacchanale
1930 Two Preludes
1931 Petite Suite
1931 B Minor Suite
1931 Mazurca
1932 Bach Suite
1933 Canción y Danza
1933 Danza (Prokofiev)
1933 Pièces Froides (Cold Pieces)
1933 Roberta
1935 Three Studies
1935 Nostalgic Fragments
1935 Prelude
1936 Satiric Lament
1936 Hymn
1937 Danza de la Muerte (Dance of Death)
1937 Opus for Three and Props
1939 Danzas Mexicanas (Mexican Dances)
1940 War Lyrics
1941 Curtain Raiser
1941 This Story Is Legend
1941 Three Inventories on Casey Jones
1941 Three Women
1941 Praeludium: Theme and Variations
1942 Chaconne solo created for Limón himself, set to music by Johann Sebastian Bach; has since been performed by Mikhail Baryshnikov[6]
1942 Alley Tune
1942 Mazurca
1943 Western Folk Suite
1943 Fun for the Birds
1944 Deliver the Gods
1944 Hi, Yank
1944 Interlude Dances
1944 Mexilinda
1944 Rosenkavalier Waltz
1945 Concerto Grosso trio, set to music by Antonio Vivaldi
1945 Eden Tree
1945 Danza (Arcadio)
1946 Masquerade
1947 La Malinche trio based on the life of La Malinche, set to music by Norman Lloyd[6]
1947 The Song of Songs
1947 Sonata Opus 4
1949 The Moor's Pavane quartet based on Shakespeare's Othello, set to music by Henry Purcell; won Limón a Dance Magazine Award
1950 The Exiles duet inspired by John Milton's poem Paradise Lost; set to music by Arnold Schoenberg[6]
1950 Concert
1951 Los Cuatros Soles
1951 Dialogues
1951 Antigona
1951 Tonantizintla
1951 The Queen's Epicedium
1951 Redes
1952 The Visitation
1952 El Grito revised version of Redes
1953 Don Juan Fantasia
1954 Ode to the Dance
1954 The Traitor ensemble work inspired by the McCarthy hearings, set to music by Gunther Schuller[6]
1955 Scherzo (Barracuda, Lincoln, Venable)
1955 Scherzo (Johnson) quartet, set to music by Hazel Johnson[6]
1955 Symphony for Strings ensemble work, set to music by William Schuman[6]
1956 There Is a Time ensemble work inspired by the book of Ecclesiastes in the Bible, set to music by Norman Dello Joio[6]
1956 A King's Heart
1956 The Emperor Jones ensemble work inspired by Eugene O'Neill's play of the same title; set to music by Heitor Villa-Lobos[6]
1956 Rhythmic Study
1957 Blue Roses
1958 Missa Brevis ensemble work in memory of lives and cities destroyed during World War II; set to music by Zoltán Kodály[6]
1958 Serenata
1958 Dances
1958 Mazurkas ensemble work set to music by Frederic Chopin[6]
1959 Tenebrae 1914
1959 The Apostate
1960 Barren Sceptre
1961 Performance
1961 The Moirai
1961 Sonata for Two Cellos
1962 I, Odysseus
1963 The Demon
1963 Concerto in D Minor After Vivaldi
1964 Two Essays for Large Ensemble
1964 A Choreographic Offering an homage to Doris Humphrey, with music by Johann Sebastian Bach[6]
1965 Variations on a Theme of Paganini
1965 My Son, My Enemy
1966 The Winged ensemble work with music originally by Hank Johnson; restaged by Carla Maxwell in 1996 with new music composed for the dance by Jon Magnussen[6]
1967 Mac Aber's Dance
1967 Psalm ensemble work with music originally by Eugene Lester; restaged by Carla Maxwell in 2002 set to new music composed for the dance by Jon Magnussen[6]
1968 Comedy
1968 Legend
1969 La Piñata
1971 Revel
1971 The Unsung ensemble work inspired by Native American chiefs;[6] shown in 1970 as a work in progress
1971 Dances for Isadora set of solos in homage to Isadora Duncan, set to music by Frederic Chopin[6]
1971 And David Wept
1972 Carlota
1972 Orfeo quintet based on the myth of Orpheus and Eurydice, set to music by Ludwig van Beethoven[6]
1971 The Winds for Philadelphia Dance Theater
1986 Luther
? The Waldstein Sonata ensemble work completed after Limón's death by Daniel Lewis; with music by Ludwig van Beethoven

See also



  1. ^ "Limón Technique - Limón". Limón. Retrieved February 13, 2018.
  2. ^ Pollack & Humphrey Woodford 1993, p. 31.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t "Chronology". Limón. Archived from the original on July 31, 2017. Retrieved July 30, 2017.
  4. ^ Limón 1998, p. 16.
  5. ^ Cady, Jennifer (December 15, 2005). Jose Limon. The Rosen Publishing Group, Inc. ISBN 9781404204492.
  6. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q "Repertory" Archived June 5, 2020, at the Wayback Machine. Limón website.
  7. ^ "Limón Dance - Journals". December 17, 2010. Archived from the original on December 17, 2010. Retrieved April 27, 2020.
  8. ^ a b Kowal, Rebekah; Siegmund, Gerald; Martin, Randy (2017). The Oxford Handbook of Dance and Politics. Oxford University Press. p. 465. ISBN 9780199928194.
  9. ^ a b c Dunbar, June (January 11, 2013). Jose Limon: An Artist Re-viewed. Routledge. p. 135. ISBN 978-1-136-65341-4.
  10. ^ Dance Theater of Jose Limon, retrieved April 27, 2020
  11. ^ Dunbar 2003, p. 135.
  12. ^ "Limón Institute". José Limón Dance Foundation. January 30, 2011. Archived from the original on April 14, 2011. Retrieved March 22, 2011.
  13. ^ a b c Capici, Lawrence. "Genre Buzz: Limón Technique". Dance Parade website, March 25, 2016.
  14. ^ "Heritage: Jose Limón". José Limón Dance Foundation. April 29, 2003. Archived from the original on December 17, 2010. Retrieved March 22, 2011.
  15. ^ "Este Domingo, el 28º Premio Nacional de Danza José Limón a Cecilia Appleton" [This Sunday, the 25th José Limón National Dance Award to Cecilia Appleton] (in Spanish). Culiacán: Instituto Sinaloense de Cultura. April 11, 2015. Retrieved April 27, 2020.


Further reading

  • Lewis, Daniel (1984). Lesley Farlow (ed.). The Illustrated Dance Technique of José Limón. Princeton Book Company. ISBN 978-0-87127-209-6.
  • Reich, Susanna (2005). José! Born to Dance: The Story of José Limón. New York: Simon & Schuster. ISBN 978-0-689-86576-3.