There's often an awkward period in an artist's reputation. The work that is fresh at first begins to look stale. Then, if not forgotten, it begins to seem - perhaps not classic - but at least richly historic. Jose Limon's modern dance compositions, which the late choreographer's company performed at the Marvin Theater this weekend, are emerging from that middle phase if the liveliness of last night's program was a fair sample.
Two works had devotional overtones, "Choreographic Offering," made in 1964 to Bach's "Musical Offering," uses Doris Humphrey dance themes and was dedicated to her memory. Limon restated the Humphrey credos of the folding and unfolding of bodies, the architectural groupings, the asymmetric floor plans and the surprising dynamic shifts in a masterly way that created veritable fields of force on the stage. "Psalm," shown as excerpts, has a formal group-work similarity, but the 1967 movement material is harsher, bodies are distorted rather than explored, and the culmination is more hypnotic than joyous as the dancers' thrust becomes as percussive as Eugene Lester's music.
Limon's last work, the 1972 "Carlota," was a nightmarish drama about the widow of the Mexican Emperor Maximilian - who was overthrown and executed by Juarez. It is danced almost in silence. Music might have turned its starkness to melodrama. Carla Maxwell, in the title role, never lets the tension lapse.