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Sokolow Theatre/Dance Ensemble

A legendary modern dance choreographer is given her due.

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I-Nam Jiemvitayanukoon and Luis Gabriel Zaragoza in a scene from “Steps of Silence” (Photo credit: Melissa Sobel/Meems Images)

I-Nam Jiemvitayanukoon and Luis Gabriel Zaragoza in a scene from “Steps of Silence” (Photo credit: Melissa Sobel/Meems Images)

Joel Benjamin

Joel Benjamin, Critic

In the world according to Anna Sokolow, angst is a karmic force, a contagion that spreads inexorably from person to person.  The Sokolow Theatre/Dance Ensemble presented three superbly idiosyncratic mountings of her works in a too-short season at the Theater at the 14th Street Y.

Jim May, who danced for Ms. Sokolow (1910-2000) for many years before taking charge of her legacy, has directed the ST/DE for many years.  His eye for detail, from the tilt of a head to the position of the dancers’ feet, brings her works to life for a new generation who are unlikely to have seen the original productions.

Sokolow’s choreography combines Martha Graham-influenced modern dance (Sokolow was a longtime member of the historic 1930’s company), emotionally laden gestures, acting demands rarely placed on dancers.

“Ride the Culture Loop” (1975) to dark, percussion-heavy music by long-time Sokolow colleague, Teo Macero, pitted small groups of dancers against each other, all seemingly trapped in a nightmare of frustration symbolized by jutting elbows, pained expressions and tense pile-ups that led inevitably to one dancer being lifted high and slowly rotated only to be subsumed back into the flailing bodies a second later.  Dressed in hippy-ish jeans and colorful tops, they seemed more concerned with their inner turmoil than communicating with each other.  The tense movements gave the work a thick, emotional veneer.   “Ride the Culture Loop” was staged by Samantha Geracht.

“Steps of Silence” (1968) to a score by Anatol Vieru had a softer tone than “Culture Loop,” but still had emotional heft.  In this work, staged by Lauren Naslund, the dancers literally strip themselves naked after a terrific emotional workout.  The air of sensuality culminated in all the dancers appearing in minimal, flesh-colored outfits that sent them bouncing off each other until they wound up in a pileup of near-naked flesh in the middle of the stage.

Eleanor Bunker, Lauren Naslund, Richard J. Scandola, Luis Gabriel Zaragoza, I-Nam Jiemvitayanukoon, Boonyartih Pankamdech, and Samantha Geracht in a scene from “Kurt Weill” (Photo credit: Melissa Sobel/Meems Images)

Eleanor Bunker, Lauren Naslund, Richard J. Scandola, Luis Gabriel Zaragoza, I-Nam Jiemvitayanukoon, Boonyartih Pankamdech, and Samantha Geracht in a scene from “Kurt Weill” (Photo credit: Melissa Sobel/Meems Images)

“Kurt Weill” (1988), staged to Weill’s tough, astringent music from his pre-America period, bears comparison to Kurt Jooss’ masterpiece, “The Green Table.”  Both are morality tales; both are period pieces; both used expressionistic Wigman-esque dance ideas; and both are more theater than dance works.  Staged with wit by Eleanor Bunker, “Kurt Weill” is constructed as a series of scenes, each to a song which colored the choreography.  “Surabaya Johnny,” for example, had a sassy, sexy quality.  Each subsequent section dealt with off-kilter relationships from the dreamy to the sadistic.  There were soldiers and loose women as well as more life-distressed characters displaying their inner feelings in dramatic and lyrical passages, all constructed with Sokolow’s unique eye for dramatic use of movement and gesture.

The fourth work on the program was a premiere, “We Remember” by Rae Ballard, a Sokolow alumna who chose to work with a meditative score by Joshua Waletzky.  Ms. Ballard’s work, danced effectively by her, Samantha Geracht and Lauren Naslund was more Doris Humphrey than Anna Sokolow with its emphasis on gently sweeping movements, flowing costumes (by Ivana Drazic) and sculptural groupings.

Jim May used dancers of varied body types helping to emphasize the universality of Ms. Sokolow’s vision.  He was helped by Stephen Petrilli’s lighting and Eleanor Bunker’s costuming.

This was a welcome opportunity to see the work of a legendary—but, unfortunately, ignored—modern dance genius.

Sokolow Theatre/Dance Ensemble (March 9-13, 2016)

Theater at the 14th Street Y, 344 East 14th Street, in Manhattan

For tickets, call 646-395-4322 or visit http://www.14streety.org/theater-and-dance/dance-series

For more information, visit http://www.sokolowtheatredance.org

Running time: two hours including one intermission

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Joel Benjamin
About Joel Benjamin (351 Articles)
JOEL BENJAMIN was a child performer on Broadway and danced with leading modern dance and ballet companies. Joel has been attending theater, ballet and opera performances ever since childhood, becoming quite opinionated over the years. He was the founder and artistic director of the American Chamber Ballet and subsequently was massage therapist to the stars before becoming a reviewer and memoirist. He is a member of the Outer Critics Circle.

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