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José Limón

(1908 Mexico – 1978 New York City)

José Limón magnetized audiences as a dancer and as a choreographer between the 1930s and the 1960s. With his striking looks and his charismatic presence he was American modern dance’s first male star. In 1949 the dance critic John Martin wrote in The New York Times “There is no other male dancer within even comparing distance”.

Photos : Elke Van De Velde

His great choreographies - such as “The Moor’s Pavane” - glorify a humanism that made them beloved all over the world.
The story of the tragedy of Othello in “The Moor’s Pavane” is an imposing chart of human frailty through its kinesthetic and emotional structure. In its condensed form of the tragedy José Limón’s choreography is worth the original play by Shakespeare.

José Limón’s approach to dance is based on the technique and movement philosophy of Doris Humphrey who was his mentor and his artistic adviser.
The movements of Doris Humphrey take their forms from the natural movements of the human body and they take their rhythms from breathing. Shifting weight, falling and recovering are co-ordinated with the dual force of inhaling and exhaling.
The quality of the use of the weight of the body is of vital importance in Doris Humphrey’s approach to dance. She abandons the traditional concepts that the body has to create the illusion of not being influenced by gravity and that all movement should give the impression of being effortless. She recognizes and uses the weight of the body.
To be on balance and to fall out of balance are the elements of Doris Humphrey’s principles of “fall” and “recovery”. To fall from the security of a perfect balance is to yield to gravity, to recover and to slowly restore your balance is to confirm your power over gravity. Before the body returns to its state of balance it is soaring off-balance in “suspension” for one floating, effortless magical moment. An infinity of physical and emotional movement can bridge the distance between the balanced body standing upright and the body lying prone. The style that originated from these movement principles is lyrical in essence and expresses the inner power of the human mind.

The movement principles of Doris Humphrey became the cornerstone of José Limón’s technique.
In his turn José Limón emphasized the synchronized rhythmic co-ordination of the movements. He made isolated parts of the body speak with their individual qualities as “voices of the body”. He liked to compare the body with an orchestra : different parts of the body engage in a movement combination with contrasting qualities between the lower and upper body. José Limón devoured space in his movement explorations and played with rhythmic structures and dynamics.He made the body speak a universal language and was inspired by the sculptor Auguste Rodin who said:”The body always expresses the soul”.

Today the vision and technique of Doris Humphrey and José Limón are still very much alive on the contemporary scene and in most schools for modern dance.  The Humphrey-Limón technique provides the dancer with an intelligent body and with the tools to communicate ideas and emotions through movement.