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A choreographed act of faith

USF's dance program, presenting a concert that includes Missa Brevis, Jose Limon's most spiritual work, has had expert guidance from an artist very close to the piece.

Published February 17, 2005

[Photo: USF]
From left, Deana Jansen, Drew Shuler, Kaitlyn Ebert, Germaine Terry and Amanda Oost rehearse for performances beginning this weekend.

TAMPA - Even in New York, where she lives, Nina Watt had heard good things about the dance program at the University of South Florida.

Now that she has been here for a few weeks, on loan to USF from the prestigious Limon Dance Company, Watt said the program's even better than she expected.

"They have a wonderful theater here and a very diverse faculty," Watt said. "And they demand a lot of the students, both in dance and in academics. It's good and it's getting better."

Watt, a longtime Limon dancer and now an artistic associate with the company, is spending five weeks at USF, working with student dancers in a piece for an upcoming concert titled "Missa Brevis and Other Dances," scheduled to open this weekend in Theater 1 on the USF Tampa campus.

Specifically, she's working with the cast of the title piece, a massive work created by Jose Limon in the 1950s.

Limon was inspired to create the piece when he toured Poland a decade or so after World War II. He was struck, Watt said, by the resilience and the optimism of the Polish people as they rebuilt their ravaged country. He choreographed the piece, one of his most overtly spiritual works, to Missa Brevis in Tempore Belli ("A Short Mass In Time of War") by composer Zoltan Kodaly.

"There's a wonderful quote from Jose," Watt said. "He said, "In the ruins of Poland I found a dance.' He called it an act of faith. I think that he recognized at that point that dance was the way he expressed his spirituality."

The piece requires 22 dancers, which is beyond the capabilities of many dance companies. Even when the Limon company performed it, Watt said, they imported dancers.

For the USF performance, four additional dancers have been brought in, including two from Blake High School, one from Hillsborough Community College and one from Moving Current, a local professional dance collective.

Watt said she has been impressed with the way the dancers have explored the work's complex psychological and philosophical ideas.

"At the same time, they're working very hard on getting to know the Limon technique, and to get the dance to radiate through their bodies."

The USF students have an advantage in grasping Limon's work, she said, because they've studied with Lynne Wimmer, a faculty member who worked with Limon and has choreographed several of his works.

For this weekend's Friday and Saturday performances, a live choral group will accompany the dancers in Missa Brevis.

Other works on the program are Suspended Cages, a solo choreographed by guest choreographer Carolina Garcia; Uncertain Weather, an piece for 14 dancers set to a percussion score, created by guest choreographer Lorelei Bayne; and an upbeat piece by USF senior Kelli Gilson, set to Elvis Presley music.

PREVIEW: "Missa Brevis and Other Dances," 8 p.m. Friday, Saturday and Feb. 24-26, and 3 p.m. Sunday, USF Theater 1, $12 for adults and $6 for seniors and students. Call 813 974-2323 or go to

[Last modified February 16, 2005, 08:33:04]

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