Faculty Member Kurt Douglas Pays Homage to Dance Forebears in Limón Reconstruction

April 09, 2019 Madison Spahn

Each spring, the Boston Conservatory at Berklee Dance Division teams up with award-winning guest choreographers to stage world premieres and masterwork reconstructions in the school’s annual spring dance concert, Limitless. Running from Thursday, April 11 through Sunday, April 14, Limitless is the final presentation in the Conservatory’s inaugural Center Stage collection, a curated selection of the season’s best offerings in dance, music, and theater.

This year, alongside five other works, Associate Professor of Dance Kurt Douglas shares a treasured piece of dance history with his students—a reconstruction of José Limón’s A Choreographic Offering, originally performed by the Limón Dance Company in 1964.

Limón, a Mexican immigrant to the United States, cofounded the Limón Dance Company with his mentor Doris Humphrey in 1946. His signature technique, focused on the movement of breath through the body and dynamic use of weight and gravity, quickly became a hallmark of modern dance, and many of his works, such as The Moor’s Pavane and Missa Brevis, are now considered American dance masterpieces.

Douglas has a special relationship with Limón’s work, having spent more than 22 years studying and performing the technique. He primarily teaches Limón technique at Boston Conservatory, and conducts Limón workshops worldwide. “I am attracted to the vulnerability in Limón’s work and technique,” Douglas explains. “It takes courage to find freedom inside of a form that already exists and to be committed enough to speak your truth.”

Douglas also acts as a Limón Foundation reconstructor, which means that he is uniquely qualified to restage and teach Limón’s original choreography to companies and schools that request to perform his seminal works. As a reconstructor, Douglas is responsible for disseminating Limón’s legacy in a way that respects the style and honors his original vision. “Reconstructions are my favorite thing to do,” he notes. “I think it’s important to pay homage to those teachers who have come before us, to acknowledge a lineage that celebrates life, creativity, and individuality. This performance is our opportunity to celebrate educators who equip us with tools and inspire us to remain curious and courageous as we navigate through the world.”

A Choreographic Offering was Limón’s loving tribute to Humphrey and her legacy, and it incorporates different motifs from 14 of Humphrey’s works. It is set to J.S. Bach’s “The Musical Offering,” and integrates movement seamlessly into the music’s prominent rhythmic quality, allowing the dancers to become part of the orchestra. Though the original work was more than an hour long and featured 30 dancers, Douglas has chosen to stage this reconstruction as a 23-minute suite for 16 dancers. He remains faithful, however, to Limón’s choreographic vision, bringing in authentic costumes borrowed from the Limón Foundation and using the original 1964 film recording to “bring a piece of history back to life through the instruments of these incredibly facile moving bodies.”

Limitless will also feature Otis Sallid’s Metallica Project, a new work choreographed to genre-bending arrangements of classic Metallica tracks, created and recorded by the Berklee Global Jazz Ensemble, Berklee Indian Ensemble, Berklee American Roots Ensemble, and Berklee Balkan Choir. Rounding out the program is the world premiere of Raising Fear, created by hip-hop artist Jennifer Archibald; reconstructions by renowned choreographers Margo Sappington and Kate Weare; and Professor of Dance Gianni Di Marco’s staging of the classic ballet Paquita by Marius Petipa.

Boston Conservatory at Berklee will present Limitless from Thursday, April 11 through Sunday, April 14 at Boston Conservatory Theater. Learn more and purchase tickets.