Dance as decolonial and partnership praxis. José Limón’s The Moor’s Pavane, a ballet reworking of Shakespeare’s Othello


Drawing from the decolonial perspective (Quijano 2007; Mignolo 2012; Mignolo, Walsh 2018) and the biocultural partnership-dominator model propounded by the anthropologist and social activist Riane Eisler (1987; Eisler, Fry 2019), this essay explores The Moor’s Pavane (1949), one of the most successful dance adaptations of Shakespeare’s Othello by the Mexican-American emigree, dancer and choreographer José Limón (1908-1972). In this paper I will draw a parallel between the Bard’s text and Limón’s dance composition to show how textual and embodied forms can merge and become a perfect medium for the displaying of all nuances in human ‘nature’, desires, and relations. In the world of ballet, the performance was revolutionary because it presented for the first time Limón’s original technique, a complex re-working of Humphrey and Weidman’s practices and a mixture of different dance-styles and tempos. The Pavane, a rigidly fixed court dance performed in Northern Italy around the Renaissance period, becomes the means through which Limón portrays the changing of order and stability of Shakespeare’s plot, so as to debunk the hypocrisy of Elizabethan society and embody Othello’s falling into Iago’s trap. In my analysis, I will explore how Limón transposed and decolonised the Shakespearean tragedy through highly innovative fall-recovery movements, iconic gestures, and precise geometrical patterns. I will focus in particular on Limón’s choice to reduce the intricate plot to a four-hand partnership dance between two different and yet parallel couples, Othello-Desdemona and Emilia-Iago. The aim of my analysis is to show how Limón slowly breaks up the Pavane’s immutable tempo in order to provide a rhythmical crescendo of movements that express the tensions, disillusionment and final choices of the main protagonists.

DOI Code: 10.1285/i22390359v48p195

Keywords: Shakespeare and dance; Othello; José Limón; decolonial studies; partnership studies.


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