Stepping stones

By MARCIA B. SIEGEL  |  February 25, 2008

José Limón (January 12, 1908–December 2, 1972) was at the peak of his career in 1958 when he made Missa Brevis, in tribute to the courage and faith of Europeans recovering from World War II. To Zoltan Kodály’s Missa in tempore belli, he set a large ensemble of Juilliard students, augmented by Limón company dancers, against a lone male figure, a leader who struggles with doubt.

The dance is large and sweeping, the music (by an unnamed recorded chorus and organist) majestic. Missa Brevis makes an apt companion piece to Dark Elegies. Tudor depicts a community of close friends taking solace in formality. Limón creates a congregation of 21 souls, refugees perhaps, lost except for the temporary refuge of the Sacrament. They rush from place to place, huddling together, then scattering. They cry out, sink into uncertainty. Their leader stands aside. The best he can offer is strength — but not conviction.

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