Sunday December 8th, 2013 - This afternoon provided an opportunity to explore more of the work of Anna Sokolow (above), the American choreographer who began her dance training with Martha Graham, worked extensively in Mexico and Israel - and on Broadway here in New York City - and was a long-time faculty member at The Juilliard School in both the dance and drama departments. Past performances of her LYRIC SUITE and ODES left me with a lasting impression of Sokolow's expressive power as a choreographer, and I wanted to see more of her creations.
The Sokolow Theatre Dance Ensemble, under the artistic direction of former dancer Jim May, keep the Sokolow repertory alive, and this afternoon's programme at the 14th Street Y featured highlights from (among others): Dreams, Rooms, From the Diaries of Franz Kafka, Opus 65, and Magritte, Magritte. The dancers of the Sokolow Ensemble were joined by teenaged students from Ellen Robbins' school.
Jim May devised this evening's 90-minute programme - with the title Anna Sokolow Way - which seamlessly incorporated dance, brief narrative, and filmed segments of Sokolow speaking about her art. One outstanding aspect of Sokolow's work is the music she used over her long choreographic career: Mahler, Ravel, Ives, Weill, and Webern all figured in the mix, along with ragtime, tango, Spanish song, classic jazz, and French music hall themes.
Immigrants huddle, with bursts of folk-inspired dance, in the opening excerpts from Ellis Island (from 1976, music by Charles Ives) and Kaddish (created in 1945 to music of Ravel); the expressive simplicity of Sokolow's style is immediately evident. Jim May speaks the welcoming words from the Statue of Liberty's inscription, evoking the beauteous melting pot that is New York City.
Melissa Sobel and the dapper Greg Youdan perform the stylized Evolution of Ragtime (1952) and then a marvelous excerpt from Frida (1997) in which Lauren Naslund, a striking presence in everything she danced this afternoon, appears as Frida Kahlo in a simple black dress, a peony in her hair. Naslund's body is a supple vessel for Sokolow's movement and for the emotional colouring of the dance. She is joined by four women in Mexican peasant costume.
Delving even deeper into the mysteries of human spirit, Sokolow uses the music of Webern and Ives in the darksome Dreams (1961) and the hauntingly beautiful The Unanswered Question (1971). Luis Gabriel Zaragoza is the dreamer, caught in a nightmare from which there is no escape; he rushes about the space in hopeless terror; panting from exhaustion, he emits a silent scream before collapsing.
The Unanswered Question is a masterpiece in which the ensemble of dancers first appear in silhouette, facing upstage. They link hands and begin a contemporary ritual in which the simplest of movements is emotionally enriched by their gestures and the poetic expressivity of their faces. They sink to their knees, looking skyward. In its pure simplicity of design, this work made a powerful impression.
Jazz brings us to Rooms (1955) as all the dancers enter with chairs. Jim May prompts their movements as they sit, rise and fall, eventually standing on their chairs.
In Metamorphosis, From the Daries of Franz Kafka (1981) Sokolow refers to the story of Gregor Samsa, the man who became a giant insect. The dancers , in funereal black, observe dancer David Glista's transformation with vampiric curiosity. He is lifted and tossed in the air before being left to writhe helplessly as his human characteristics are eroded. For me, Sokolow's rendering of this tale was far more potent than the Royal Ballet's over-long, theatrical production drawn form the same story.
Eleanor Bunker as a floozy in a blonde wig ensnares four men in a jitterbug loop in Opus 65 (1965); the men seem drugged, and Ms. Bunker soon tires of them. This evolves into yet another Sokolow jewel, a pas de deux from Ride the Culture Loop (1975) that bore a distinct resemblance to Balanchine's Symphony in Three Movements. Ms. Naslund and her partner, Richard Scandola, were marvelous in this slow, sculptural duet: their physical suppleness and quiet intensity reaching a climax as Ms. Naslund lies prone and Mr. Scandola executes a deep tunneling backbend. In Session for Six (1958) which followed, three couples express the simple joys of such moves as twirling, swirling, and jazzy, shuffling steps.
The Threatened Assassin, an excerpt from Magritte, Magritte (1970), is a small domestic drama; with an old gramophone playing a French tune, Greg Youdan quietly strangles Eleanor Bunker; the crime is investigated by a comic pair of detectives, Mssers. Scandola and Zaragoza.
A double-finale ensues, with lilting melodies a l'espagnole and a slow tango for eight from Kurt Weill (1988) followed by a coda from Rooms in which individual solos are threaded into a slow-motion jazz ensemble.
The afternoon swept by, with fine lighting and sound enhancing the excellence and commitment of the dancers. I shall look forward to every opportunity to experience Ms. Sokolow's vibrant choreography in future, and I suggest that today's young choreographers take a long look at her work for its clarity, musicality and vivid imagery.