On October 24, in New York City, Toronto youth dance company Canadian Contemporary Dance Theatre (CCDT) earned themselves a standing ovation from the audience at the Joyce Theater for their performance of The Winged at the José Limón International Dance Festival as part of the Limón Dance Company’s seventieth anniversary season.
The festival, which ran October 13-25, featured many performances by the Limón Dance Company as well as guest appearances by the Royal Danish Ballet, California’s sjDANCEco, American Repertory Ballet, CoreoArte of Venezuela and a number of American universities. CCDT was the only Canadian company invited and the youngest — their dancers’ average age being sixteen.
CCDT’s connection to Limón traces back to 1988 when the technique was first introduced to the school by former dancer, teacher and rehearsal director Donna Krasnow. The relationship was further solidified when two former CCDT dancers went on to professional careers with the Limón company, including Kristen Foote who has danced for them for over fifteen years.
The Winged, first presented in 1966 and one of Limón’s last pieces, is several short numbers in which winged creatures interact, playing, flying, eating and courting. This energetic work was well-chosen for the young performers. They proved particularly adept at the numerous and quickly changing formations which required complicated group movements, as the flock of winged creatures swoops, dives and circles. The CCDT performers beautifully captured the tension between the lightness of flight and the intensity of the animalistic movements.
The dancers’ skill in using their breath to motivate each movement, a core tenet of José Limón’s dance philosophy, appeared in their best moments like a single, driving communal breath and is primarily the result of the technical training provided by CCDT, but also of the priceless coaching and rehearsal time they had with Roxane D’Orléans Juste, associate artistic director of the Limón Dance Company. Originally from Montréal, and one of the foremost experts on the Limón oeuvre, D’Orléans Juste came to Toronto early in October to lead rehearsals of The Winged. Beyond Limón’s technique, she helped the young dancers of CCDT find the current and continuing relevance of his work, one of the main goals of the José Limón Dance Festival.
For D’Orléans Juste, the significance of Limón’s work is not just in the movements but also in his emphasis on being accountable for what we say, to having a voice in the community of humans. She spoke with the dancers about finding the present social and political meaning in a piece created over thirty years before the eldest of them was born. What did the piece mean for these young people when D’Orléans Juste asked them? “Hope,” said fifteen-year-old Gabi Ritchie, “a combination of community and the possibility represented by the idea of flight.” “Limón once said,” recalled D’Orléans Juste, “that ‘it would be through my dances, not my technique, that [future generations] will get to know me.’ ”