By Laura Di Orio of Dance Informa.
This past May, the José Limón Dance Company celebrated its 68th anniversary season with performances at The Joyce Theater in New York City. Dancer and Associate Artistic Director Roxane D’Orleans Juste has been around for 30 of those years.
But for Juste, who says that dance is and always has been her life, there is more time to come. She says she hopes to be a part of the next 20 years of the Limón Dance Foundation and the dance world at large.
“There is more room to grow, to create and to learn,” Juste says. “My hands are not full yet.”
During the company’s season, Juste performed former dancer Ruth Currier’s solo in Limón’s Mazurkas, Limón’s Psalm, Sean Curran’s Nocturnes for Ancestors and a new Dianne McIntyre solo named She Who Carries the Sky, created specifically for Juste.
Now that the busy season has come to a close, Juste spoke with Dance Informa on her journey with the Limón Dance Company and why she feels so at home there.
What first attracted you to the Limón movement and repertory? And what has kept you dancing with the company for 30 years?
“I was first attracted to the movement when it was introduced to me through Linda Rabin’s teaching in Montreal. Linda had studied with Jose Limón and graduated from The Juilliard School. Then having only experienced two years of modern dance training, I was invited to meet Linda and attend her class. I was mesmerized by the fluid and natural quality of her movements and absolutely fell in love with the idea of “weight and suspension.”
After traveling for 14 months and studying the training of classical ballet dancers in Europe, I had the opportunity to meet Risa Steinberg in Koln, Germany, and attend a summer residency. This was my second experience studying the Limón technique and once again was mesmerized by the complexity of the rhythmic patterning and technical demands of clarity, dynamic range, spatial awareness and musicality.
I auditioned for the Limón Company in mid-1983. My first memories of the audition were of a very warm and supportive group of talented and knowledgeable artists, each one sharing great passion and enthusiasm in teaching movement phrases that were as eloquent as exhilarating. I had found my ‘home.’
To this day, I find such satisfaction in discovering the movement nuances and deep human expression embodied in Limón’s repertory. It is a tremendous life gift to be able to explore or originate new roles from contemporary choreographers at the same time as learn to understand and interpret classic roles of the master choreographers of the 20th century! We must become chameleons as well as remain our true selves.
When given the opportunity to be part of such an extraordinary legacy that still thrives today – teaching, directing, guiding, mentoring, creating and researching – 30 years pass very quickly.”
Did you ever work personally with José Limón? What vision do you think he wanted the company to carry on?
“No, I never had the chance to meet José Limón; but I met him through studying with his students, his contemporaries and through dancing his dances.
I believe that the company was able to carry his vision forward, first and foremost in sustaining the mission of presenting works of chosen choreographers to complement the existing repertory, in harnessing as many voices as possible to help keep the work alive, and by maintaining relationships with original and former company members, whose feedback, guidance and support is of great value and importance. Our work is shared from one to the other in the physical experience of the movement philosophy as an oral tradition would be.”
How did you make the transition from dancer to associate artistic director of the company?
“I suppose that the transition happened little by little. I was always interested in the inner-makings and dance production, as well as in facilitating communication between artists and management.
My director, dear friend and colleague, Carla Maxwell, entrusted me with the role of associate artistic director after having served as her artistic associate for five years. I fulfill the role as I am continuing to perform.
I had the example of colleagues before me who were also dancers and, at one time, artistic associates. I learned from them that those responsibilities take dedication, commitment and pride to help carry forth this beautiful body of work.”
How do you feel, physically and mentally, after 30 years of dancing with the company? Are there some things that have become easier or harder?
“I feel surprisingly very well! A testament to the sound teaching and humanism that is the essence of Doris Humphrey and José Limón’s dances! These dances speak about people, they are universal, they are relevant. We certainly have to devoid ourselves of artifice and affectations and be humble because we are only human.
When we speak of grief, hope, love, fear, conflict, our psyche, what is difficult is reaching deeply enough within ourselves to find the clarity needed to make this expression accessible to everyone. José Limón’s sophistication came in finding a language that was sublime as could be heart wrenching. The physicality needed to express those ideas is demanding, but once you give ‘in’, you can find new breath.”
Tell us a little about the new solo created on you by Dianne McIntyre. What does it feel like to have something created on you?
“She Who Carries the Sky was a very special gift from my Artistic Director Carla Maxwell and choreographer Dianne McIntyre, a ritual speaking of every man’s ability to see beyond what we see, what we sense and what we touch. A celebration of my Canado-Haitian cultural background, honoring the ancestors and acknowledgement of the inherent responsibility to not only partake in the beauty of the world around us but also affect it for the better.
It is as a highly delicate as it is a powerful, life-changing work. I am blessed and honored to have had this opportunity to share this extraordinary creative experience with Dianne.”
What is your favorite part of being a dancer?
“My favorite part of being a dancer is being part of an extraordinary community of human beings, musicians, composers, visual artists, writers and scientists, all searching for an authentic voice but wishing to reach beyond ourselves and toward the other! Being a dancer is having the honor to be a voice, a ray of hope and comfort in expressing human values that touch each one of us. It is an affirmation of life – dancing with purpose.”
What are three words to best describe these past 30 years?
“Challenging, hopeful, extraordinary.”