When the Limón Dance Company performs as part of Paul Taylor’s American Modern Dance season at Lincoln Center from March 10 through 29, Montclair State alumnus Mark Willis will be among the dancers performing in Doris Humphrey’s Passacaglia. Willis, who joined the celebrated company in February 2015, graduated from Montclair State with a BFA in Dance in 2014.
Since it was founded in 1946 by the late dancer and choreographer José Limón, the Limón Dance Company has been an innovative force in American modern dance that is internationally acclaimed for its emphasis on both technical precision and dramatic expressiveness. Limón Dance, which is the nation’s first modern dance repertory company, has received numerous honors, including a 2008 National Medal of Arts, the nation’s highest award for artists. “I am so blessed to be a part of a prestigious company with such a rich history,” says Willis.
"A Gorgeous Performer"
“I didn’t have an ‘official’ audition with the company,” says Willis. Instead, he was recommended to Carla Maxwell, the company’s artistic director by Montclair State Dance Prof. Maxine Steinman, who enjoys a long affiliation with the Limón Dance Company. “She recommended me after she heard that they were in need of another male dancer,” explains Willis.
As a student, Willis performed works of choreographers such as Limón, Bill T. Jones and Earl Mosley and was awarded the 2013 Spirit of Dance Award given by the University’s Department of Theatre and Dance. “In school, the Limón technique transformed my dancing and to be able to dance with such wonderful people is a gift. I’ve learned so much in the short time that I have been working with the company,” Willis says.
Willis choreographed Save Me, a solo dance that was selected for the closing Gala performance of the 2014 annual Northeast Regional American College Dance Festival at SUNY Brockport. He was also part of the group that was selected to perform Earl Mosley’s Oh My Love at the National American College Dance Festival at the Kennedy Center last June.
“Mark has a choreographer’s heart in addition to being a gorgeous performer,” says Theatre and Dance Prof. Lorraine Katterhenry. “His work in choreography class was always creatively exciting. He took a lot of chances and was not afraid of risk. He committed as fully to class assignments as he did to stage performances, putting a high value on personal expression whether in the classroom on the Kennedy Center stage,” added Katterhenry, who is also Deputy Chair for Dance in the department.
A Remarkable Opportunity
Since joining the company, Willis has had a busy schedule. “The days usually run from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.,” he explains. “We typically have company class in the morning for an hour and a half and the rest of the time is devoted to rehearsal with breaks in between.”
In addition to rehearsing for the Lincoln Center performances of Passacaglia, Humphrey’s 1938 dance set to the music of Bach, Willis and the company have been rehearsing Missa Brevis. Willis says, “It’s a beautiful piece choreographed by Limón, which we will be performing in New Orleans in May.”
For the talented dancer, this is a remarkable opportunity. “I am so very grateful to be dancing with the Limón Company,” he says. “I walk into rehearsal with a smile on my face every day because I know how blessed I am to be doing something I love to do. Not everyone gets an opportunity like this.”