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Vail Dance Festival Vol. 1 No. 6 - Chaconne

Below is an account of the creation of "Chaconne" from Limón's memoir:

José Limón in Chaconne. Photo by Barbara Morgan, 1945.

"I was given the responsibility of devising a substantial solo work of my own. I had lived with Bach's “Chaconne” for a number of years. It had been a constant and beloved companion. It had seen me through some dark moments, and I had come to sense the grandeur of its architecture and the sublimity of its concept. Composing a dance to it seemed an act of presumption, even impertinence. Nevertheless, the idea persisted, an ever-present urge and temptation."

"It took a tremendous amount of sweat—not only of the body but also of the mind—and intuition. There was no dramatic idea or story on which to lean. Here was the challenge that had to be met and transcended if totally abstract, formal beauty were to result."

"There is a miraculous fecundity to the art of Bach. In this Chaconne, the fecundity seems inexhaustible. The work has a logic, radiance, and purity. Each variation creates its own perfect little universe, yet joins its successor to create a mighty impetus that ascends ever higher to regions of rapturous sonority. I met each variation with the utmost reverence and attempted to reflect in movement what the music seemed to imply. Because, locked up in this room, with these sounds penetrating my sensibilities and my bones and tissues, the music took full command.

"The dance emerged, formal, majestic, elegant, and above all beautiful."

(affiliate link)


When José completed his solo, "Chaconne" he performed it for his friend and mentor, Doris Humphrey. He wrote:

"Performing a new dance is always exhausting, for one usually pushes too hard, and one's endurance is not ready to bear the double strain on the nervous system and the muscles. On concluding, I stood totally spent, and Doris was silent for a long time. Then, she left her seat, came to me, and said in her quiet voice, ‘This is one of the most magnificent dances I have ever seen. It is that for a number of reasons, but chiefly because it is a man's dance.’ I memorized these words, for I needed them."

"The all-Bach program met a resounding success, beyond our most cheerful expectations. It was expected to run for three consecutive Sunday evenings. Instead, it ran for eleven Sundays to packed houses."


Doris wrote of "Chaconne":

"Here are courage, balance in every sense, authority without boastfulness, power tempered with intelligence, the possibilities of the whole mature man brought to a high degree of perfection […]"

-- An Artist First (affiliate link)

"Bach's theme has a somber and austere majesty. It is also one of the master's most profoundly beautiful utterances, impeccably formal and elegantly baroque."--José Limón

His wife Pauline designed for him a costume "that made me look like one of the somberly elegant Spanish grandees in the El Greco painting ‘The Burial of the Count of Orgaz.’”

Of course I had to go find this painting to see what the costume is referencing.

(left) Photo by Walter Strater, 1942

(right) "The Burial of the Count of Orgaz" by El Greco

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