Jose Limon in “The Emperor Jones”
“The Emperor Jones” was choreographed by José Limón and premiered in 1956. It is loosely based on Eugene O’Neil’s 1920 play by the same name. In O’Neil’s play a fugitive from a chain gain, sets himself up as emperor of an island domain, he becomes a tyrant and the treatment of his subjects causes them to rebel, they hunt him down, and bring him to an ignominious death. José Limón went further; he delves into the undercurrents of Emperor Jones’ emotions, seeking out not just the tyrant but the man underneath, a being of fallibility and inner fears.
For his EMPEROR JONES in 1956, Limón and his collaborator, the composer Heitor Villa-Lobos, attempted “a symbolic synthesis of a man’s disintegration through terror.” Limón told an interviewer, “We concentrated on the psychological possibilities Jones presented. The human body can be more powerfully expressive, because the expression is not specific. A chain gang, a ship, and other scenes are suggested. But these things are in the mind of Jones, which is tortured by phantasmagoria of his recent deeds.
– From the Limón Journal, Spring 1997, p. 8.
The above video is the first 10 mins of “The Emperor Jone” with Jose Limon dancing the role of the Emperor.
Upon Limón’s death, Clive Barnes wrote in the New York Times: “As a man he was austere, grave and kindly. There was a courtliness to his every gesture, and he moved through the world like a prince. As a dancer he was an eagle. As a choreographer he was extremely gifted and fluent. He was never a particularly innovative artist, but possessed an innate understanding of that fusion of dance, drama and music that is the core of his work. He has left half a dozen ballets, at least, that should find a permanent place in the American repertory.”