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Troupe elegantly reflects on darkness and joy

According to the Bank of America Celebrity Series, the Limon Dance Company has not performed in Boston for 40 years. Saturday night's splendid program of two of choreographer Jose Limon's masterworks and a world premiere by Lar Lubovitch prompts the obvious question: Why so long?

The centerpiece of the evening was Lubovitch's ''Recordare" (''Remember"), created to celebrate the rich legacy of Limon -- who died in 1972 -- on the eve of his company's 60th anniversary. No somber homage, ''Recordare" is a vibrant, colorful, and irreverent series of vignettes in the guise of a Day of the Dead pageant. Set to selections from Elliot Goldenthal's eclectic ''Juan Darien: A Carnival Mass," the vividly theatrical dance playfully mixes old and new, riotous cheer and melancholy mourning.

Lubovitch's inventive, lush choreography features traces of folkloric dances in the revels of the crowd. A widow, both ecstatic and horrified, dances a duet with the skeleton that emerges from her husband's coffin, and a young virgin heals a cripple, but most of it is played for fun. Newlyweds are chased by a cleaver-wielding specter, and a grotesquely overweight devil evokes more laughter than fear, reflecting the day's joyful conjoining of the living and the dead.

For many modern dancers of a certain age, Limon's own aesthetic feels like coming home. His choreography looks familiar and natural, with its low center of gravity, elegant lines, and turns that seem to unspool on a stream of air. Above all, it is imbued with a sense of heartfelt humanity and integrity. It's not spectacular or edgy, just exquisitely beautiful and impeccably crafted.

The program opened and closed with seminal works in the Limon canon. ''A Choreographic Offering," a 1963 homage to Limon's mentor/partner Doris Humphrey, is based on movements from Humphrey's dances. Though it took a few moments for the dancers to warm up, they eventually settled into a winning performance of this glorious work. The women's bent-leg leaps seemed to hang in midair. The men sliced through space with expansive lunges, arms thrust forward. Visually alluring patterns caught the eye yet defied expectation, with surprising shifts of direction and dynamic. Ryoko Kudo sparkled in a solo of playful sideways dips and turns, her feet flicking like insect wings. Roxane D'Orleans Juste and Kurt Douglas were dynamite in the central duet.

Limon's most famous work, "The Moor's Pavane," was given a dazzling performance enlivened by vivid characterizations. Not a literal retelling of Shakespeare's ''Othello," it beautifully distills the story's internal tension and dramatic arc through the unfolding of a pavane and other Renaissance dances. Though slight, Raphael Boumaila was commanding as the conflicted Othello. Brenna Monroe-Cook captured Desdemona's innocence and charm. Jonathan Riedel and Juste were sly yet understated as the Moor's conniving friend and his wife, showing how telling a tilt of the head or a flick of the wrist can be.

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