Laura Glenn can still remember the excitement she felt watching the Limón Dance Company perform at Central Park in the summer of 1962. “I turned to the person next to me and whispered, ‘He’s going to be my teacher!'” she says. Two weeks later, she started as a Juilliard freshman, where she indeed studied under the legendary José Limón before joining his company in her second year.
After more than a decade with his troupe, she became a faculty member at her alma mater—2017 marks her 30th year at Juilliard—and founded the White Mountain Summer Dance Festival, a three-week intensive that takes place this month (July 9–29) at the University of Massachusettts Amherst campus. Though the festival is known for its emphasis on immersion (students take class from sunup to sundown) and tailoring one’s experience (whether with a focus on performance, choreography, injury prevention or healing modalities), what sets it apart is its size. Glenn has kept enrollment small each year—only 40 students—to ensure maximum bonding and so every dancer can take every class that’s offered.
How she joined the Limón Dance Company “José wanted to do a piece in honor of his teacher Doris Humphrey, called A Choreographic Offering . The Juilliard students were in two sections, and then he set the finale. He was cordoning us off by size to be in one of four groups: ‘So you go here, you go here, you go here.’ When he got to me, he said, ‘You go there.’ I turned around to where he pointed, and it was where the company was standing. I went over there, and one by one, the company members said, ‘What are you doing here?’ ‘I don’t know! He asked me to stand here.’ After the fifth or sixth company member asked me that, I just felt ridiculous. So I went up to José and said, ‘I’m sorry, where did you want me to stand?’ He said, ‘I told you to stand over there!’ For him, it wasn’t complicated. I was in the company.”
On dancing in Limón’s final work “The last two works José made, one was for me and one was for Carla Maxwell. Orfeo [1972, about the myth of Orpheus and Eurydice] was made for me and Aaron Osborne. José had a farm—a renovated barn in New Jersey—and a lot of Orfeo got choreographed there because he was already becoming ill. Orfeo was clearly about the fact that José had recently lost his wife, Pauline. He saw the premiere, and he died two months later. It was an honor to be there, to be in his last works.”
On staying dynamic as a teacher “Teaching isn’t hierarchical. I have information to share, but if I don’t fully respect the students and where they’re at, I’m not really teaching—I’m pasting things on somebody. I love when a student asks a question and I can say, ‘Nobody’s ever asked me that before!’ Then I’m being challenged, too. It’s got to stay dynamic.”