Limón performing Mexican Suite in 1944. Photograph by Barbara Morgan.
January 12, 1908|
|Died||December 2, 1972(aged 64)|
|Occupation||Modern dancer, choreographer|
|Former groups||José Limón Dance Company (now the Limón Dance Company)|
|Dances||The Moor's Pavane (1949)|
José Arcadio Limón (January 12, 1908 – December 2, 1972) was a dancer and choreographer 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 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.
Limón's most well-known work is The Moor's Pavane (1949), based on Shakespeare's Othello, which won a major award. 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 set his dances to music, choosing composers ranging from Ludwig van Beethoven and Frederic Chopin to Arnold Schoenberg and Heitor Villa-Lobos.
After graduating from Lincoln High School, Limón attended UCLA as an art major. He moved to New York City in 1928 to study 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.
In 1930, Limón first performed on Broadway, 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 selected as one of the first Bennington Fellows. At the Bennington Festival at Mills College in 1939, Limón created his first major choreographic work, titled Danzas Mexicanas. 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. The most well-known among these is Concerto Grosso.
José Limón Dance Company
Attaining American citizenship in 1946, Limón formed the Limón Dance Company. When Limón began his company, he asked Humphrey to be the artistic director, 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. 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 1960–70, and Falco starred opposite to Rudolph Nureyev in Limon's Moor's Pavane on Broadway from 1974-75.
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. In 1948, the company first appeared at the Connecticut College American Dance Festival and would return each summer for many years. Limón choreographed The Moor's Pavane in 1949, and it received the Dance Magazine Award for the year's most outstanding choreography. 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, 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. 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).
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.
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. The following year, Limón appeared in an NET special titled The Dance Theater of José Limón.
In 1966, 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.
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.
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.
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. 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". 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."
José Limón considered Isadora Duncan, Harald Kreutzberg, Doris Humphrey, and Charles Weidman as important influences on his style of dance. 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. 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. 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. He paid particular attention to proper breathing because it enabled continuously flowing motion.
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, with the express purpose of maintaining the Limón technique and repertory.
Honors and legacy
In 1973, the José Limón Collection was given to the New York Public Library Dance Collection by Charles Tomlinson.
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.
In 2003, Limón was named one of America's "irreplaceable Dance Treasures" by the Dance Heritage Coalition. In 2012, he was chosen to appear on a U.S. postage stamp in honor of his contribution to the art of dance.
A number of books about Limón and his technique have been published, including The Illustrated Dance Technique of José Limón (1984). His own autobiographical writings appeared in edited form in 1999 under the title An Unfinished Memoir.
|1930||Etude in D Minor|
|1931||B Minor Suite|
|1933||Canción y Danza|
|1933||Pièces Froides||(Cold Pieces)|
|1937||Danza de la Muerte||(Dance of Death)|
|1937||Opus for Three and Props|
|1939||Danzas Mexicanas||(Mexican Dances)|
|1941||This Story Is Legend|
|1941||Three Inventories on Casey Jones|
|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|
|1943||Western Folk Suite|
|1943||Fun for the Birds|
|1944||Deliver the Gods|
|1945||Concerto Grosso||trio, set to music by Antonio Vivaldi|
|1947||La Malinche||trio based on the life of La Malinche, set to music by Norman Lloyd|
|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|
|1951||Los Cuatros Soles|
|1951||The Queen’s Epicedium|
|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|
|1955||Scherzo (Barracuda, Lincoln, Venable)|
|1955||Scherzo (Johnson)||quartet, set to music by Hazel Johnson|
|1955||Symphony for Strings||ensemble work, set to music by William Schumann|
|1956||There Is a Time||ensemble work inspired by the book of Ecclesiastes in the Bible, set to music by Norman Dello Joio|
|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|
|1958||Missa Brevis||ensemble work in memory of lives and cities destroyed during World War II; set to music by Zoltán Kodály|
|1958||Mazurkas||ensemble work set to music by Frederic Chopin|
|1961||Sonata for Two Cellos|
|1963||Concerto in D Minor After Vivaldi|
|1964||Two Essays for Large Ensemble|
|1964||A Choreographic Offering|
|1965||Variations on a Theme of Paganini||an homage to Doris Humphrey, with music by Johann Sebastian Bach|
|1965||My Son, My Enemy|
|1966||The Winged||ensemble work with music originally by Hank Johnson; later restaged with music by Jon Magnussen|
|1967||Mac Aber’s Dance|
|1967||Psalm||ensemble work, set to music by Jon Magnussen|
|1971||The Unsung||ensemble work inspired by Native American chiefs; 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|
|1971||And David Wept|
|1972||Orfeo||quintet based on the myth of Orpheus and Eurydice, set to music by Ludwig van Beethoven|
|1971||The Winds||for Philadelphia Dance Theater|
|?||The Waldstein Sonata||ensemble work completed after Limón's death by Daniel Lewis; with music by Ludwig van Beethoven|
- Pollack & Humphrey Woodford 1993, p. 31.
- "Chronology". Limón. Retrieved 2017-07-30.
- Limón 1998, p. 16.
- Dunbar 2003, p. 135.
- "Limón Institute". José Limón Dance Foundation. 2011-01-30. Retrieved 2011-03-22.
- Capici, Lawrence. "Genre Buzz: Limón Technique". Dance Parade website, March 25, 2016.
- "Heritage: Jose Limón". José Limón Dance Foundation. 2003-04-29. Retrieved 2011-03-22.
- "Repertory". Limón website.
- Cohen, Selma Jeanne (1966). The Modern Dance; Seven Statements of Belief. Middletown, CT: Wesleyan University Press. ISBN 978-0-8195-6003-2.
- Dunbar, June (2003). José Limón: The Artist Re-viewed. London: Routledge. ISBN 978-90-5755-121-5.
- Limón, José (1998). Garafola, Lynn, ed. José Limón: an Unfinished memoir. Middletown, CT: Wesleyan University Press. ISBN 978-0-8195-6505-1.
- Pollack, Barbara; Humphrey Woodford, Charles (1993). Dance is a Moment: a Portrait of José Limón in Words and Pictures. Princeton Book Company. ISBN 978-0-87127-183-9.
- 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). Born to Dance: The Story of José Limón. New York: Simon & Schuster. ISBN 978-0-689-86576-3.