Modern Milestones: Ailey Turns 50, Limón Turns 100, Bausch Grows Up

This kind of carefully constructed, deeply felt drama is about as far as you can get from the postmodernism and Euro-trash that were to come. The sincerity—the earnestness, even—seems almost antediluvian; we’ve slipped through a crack in time back to the ’40s, the world of Graham at her peak and of Doris Humphrey and Charles Weidman, Limón’s mentors. But the phrase “old-fashioned” isn’t pejorative when applied to such honest and strong work, performed with such honesty and strength.

The Traitor, from 1954, is another tightly built drama based on one of our culture’s pivotal stories: the betrayal of Jesus by Judas. The dance components are once again modest—six male dancers plus “The Leader” and “The Traitor,” as Jesus and Judas are named here. There’s a de Chirico–like set, handsome costumes by Lawrence and insistent music by Gunther Schuller. The main prop, ingeniously deployed, is a white cloth that serves as a tablecloth for the Last Supper and as a constraining garment for Jesus as he’s led off to his death.

Limón himself danced Iago and Judas, the anguished roles. This season, a young, blond, very tall Jonathan Fredrickson danced Iago and Jesus, and with equal success: Talk about a tour de force.

The third Limón piece on view was Suite From a Choreographic Offering, an abstract company work made as a tribute to Doris Humphrey. It too displays a remarkable sense of organization as well as an intense, personal response to Bach, and its dozen dancers moved through it seamlessly. They’re a remarkably cohesive group who seem selflessly steeped in the Limón aesthetic. All credit to Carla Maxwell, who heads the company!

 

TO GO FROM the rigors of Limón to the popularism of Ailey to the shock waves of Pina Bausch is a dizzying ride. Her latest large-scale work, Bamboo Blues, still on view at BAM, is an outburst of images and encounters that add up to an incomprehensible but ravishing dance work. It’s incomprehensible because it has no apparent order: Any episode could go more or less anywhere. Ravishing because the billowing curtains, the rippling film projections on the scrim, the loveliness of the Indian-inflected dance style, the thrilling controlled energy of the company and the level of invention that Bausch has brought to this piece are irresistible. Yes, she falls back on her old kind of provocative gesture—a girl plunges her head into a red bucket filled with water; a guy lathers up (face, torso and legs)—but these devices seem pro forma: Her rebel heart is on hold. Inspired by India, Bausch has substituted fluency and feeling, proving conclusively that she’s far more than Germany’s bad girl of the dance.

rgottlieb@observer.com