Founded by Mexican-American José Limón 75 years ago, the Limón Dance Company (LDC) hadn't worked with any other Mexican choreographer — until now. While in residency at Northrop in 2021, LDC developed a commissioned piece set to premiere Friday, created by Mexico City-based Raúl Tamez.
In his dance studies in both Mexico and the Netherlands, Tamez learned Limón technique, watched Limón's archival pieces, and saw the Limón Dance Company perform live. He was drawn to the way the company moved, with its sophisticated understanding of falling, recovery and suspension.
"I was an admirer of the technique and the style," Tamez said. "I never would have imagined I was going to be invited at some point of my career to make a piece on them."
Tamez got the chance after Dante Puleio took the reins as artistic director of the New York City company. For its 75th anniversary, Puleio wanted to explore how Limón's culture influenced his work. To do that, he felt it was important to invest in Mexican choreographers.
Tamez seemed a perfect fit. His path to dance was similar to Limón's, with both starting later than is typical; Tamez was first an actor, while Limón had once dreamed of being a painter. Plus, Puleio saw some of Tamez's work as a coming together of Limón and another contemporary dance giant, Pina Bausch.
"It's big and theatrical and risky," said Puleio of Tamez's style. "It's made with a very sharp eye in its use of space and community and moving bodies. That is exactly the kind of direction that I want the company to be going in."
Tamez's new piece, "Migrant Mother," draws from Limón's 1951 trip to Mexico City and historic sites including the Templo de Santa Maria Tonantzintla. The church's design showcases Indigenous culture and belief systems. There are 13 heavens on the ceiling, for example, which is how Indigenous communities of the area viewed the cosmos.
The piece that Limón created after his visit, "Tonantzintla," celebrates the artwork that came out of the era of Spanish occupation. Tamez's piece explores the physical and symbolic domination that the church represents, reflecting critically on creolization, conquest and migration. It draws from deconstructed folkloric dances and theatricality.
"It's disruptive," Puleio said of the commissioned piece.
Students learn from masters
As Kristen Brogdon, Northrop's director of programming, watched Limón dancers develop the Northrop Centennial Commissions piece while in residence, she was struck by how the dancers worked together.
"There are a lot of gorgeous lifts with men lifting women, but then there are also duets for women together," she said. "They use their bodies in interesting ways and kind of try to merge them. It looks like two people kind of becoming one on stage."
Northrop's partnership with LDC came about through Carl Flink, who directs the University of Minnesota dance department. Flink, also the artistic director of his Black Label Movement company, danced with LDC for six years in the 1990s and introduced Brogdon to Puleio.
While LDC visited, they worked with Black Label and the dance program. In addition to performing "Migrant Mother" at Northrop this weekend, they will also perform Limón's 1967 piece "Psalm," incorporating student dancers. Based on a novel, it explores eight generations of a Jewish family, ending with the last member murdered at Auschwitz.
Also on the program is a 1928 work by Doris Humphrey, one of Limón's mentors, called "Air for the G String," as well as Limón's partially lost work "Danzas Mexicanas." Thought to be Limón's first choreographed work, "Danzas" explores Limón's Mexican heritage through five solos.
Puleio wants his company to continue integrating student dancers.
"I think that ability to connect to the next generation of artists is really important," he said. "I want to create as many inroads for access to the company as possible."
7:30 p.m. Fri., Northrop, 84 SE. Church St., Mpls., $42-61,