When José Limón formed his company in 1946, he made the unusual decision to ask another person—his teacher and mentor Doris Humphrey—to act as Artistic Director. Their partnership endured until her death in 1958, creating a unique modern dance repertory company and an approach to movement that has shaped subsequent generations of dancers and artists.
José Limón (1908-1972) was a crucial figure in the development of modern dance: his powerful dancing shifted perceptions of the male dancer, while his choreography continues to bring a dramatic vision of dance to audiences around the world. Born in Mexico, Limón moved to New York City in 1928 after a year at UCLA as an art major. It was here that he saw his first dance program:
“What I saw simply and irrevocably changed my life. I saw the dance as a vision of ineffable power. A man could, with dignity and towering majesty, dance… dance as Michelangelo’s visions dance and as the music of Bach dances.”
In 1946, after studying and performing for 10 years with Doris Humphrey and Charles Weidman, he established his own company with Humphrey as Artistic Director. During her tenure, Humphrey choreographed many pieces for the Limón Dance Company, and it was under her experienced directorial eye that Limón created his signature dance, The Moor’s Pavane (1949). Limón’s choreographic works were quickly recognized as masterpieces and the Company itself became a landmark of American dance. Many of his dances—There is a Time, Missa Brevis, Psalm, The Winged—are considered classics of modern dance.
Limón was a consistently productive choreographer until his death in 1972—he choreographed at least one new piece each year—and he was also an influential teacher and advocate for modern dance. He was in residence each summer at the American Dance Festival, a key faculty member in The Juilliard School’s Dance Division beginning in 1953, and the director of Lincoln Center’s American Dance Theatre from 1964-65. Limón received two Dance Magazine Awards, the Capezio Award, and honorary doctorates from four universities in recognition of his achievements. He was the subject of a major retrospective exhibition at the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts, The Dance Heroes of José Limón (Fall 1996), and in 1997 he was inducted into the Hall of Fame at the National Museum of Dance in Saratoga Springs, NY. His autobiographical writings, An Unfinished Memoir, were edited by Lynn Garafola and published in 1999 by Wesleyan University Press.
Doris Humphrey (1895 – 1958) is one of the founders of American modern dance. She created a distinctive approach to movement based on the body’s relationship to gravity and the use of weight, and her choreographic works are considered classics of modern dance.
Born in Oak Park, Illinois, Humphrey was an avid dance student from a young age, and she opened her own dance studio after graduating from high school. She moved to Los Angeles in 1917 to join the Denishawn School and Company, where she performed and taught until 1928, when she and Charles Weidman left to form their own group in New York. Between 1928 and 1944, she choreographed and performed for the Humphrey-Weidman Company, an artistic collaboration that produced ground-breaking dances as well as outstanding performers, José Limón among them. When physical disability ended her career as a dancer, she became the artistic director and mentor for Limón and his company, creating classic works such as Lament for Ignacio Sanchez Mejias (1946), Day on Earth (1947), Invention (1949), and Night Spell (1951). Her final artistic contribution, The Art of Making Dances, was published in 1959 and remains an essential text on choreographic principles.