Anna Sokolow (1910-2000), one of the greatest dancer/choreographers of the third generation of modern dance explorers—after Martha Graham and her colleagues—choreographed many dances of social significance in her early career—all vanished. Her choreographic style evolved from unvarnished evocations of the deep issues of her times—poverty, fascism, etc.—into less literal abstractions of deep emotional states such as “Rooms” and “Lyric Suite.”
Her reputation as a pathfinder has sadly diminished from her peak influence in the fifties, sixties and seventies, so it is brilliant that the Sokolow Theatre/Dance Ensemble has kept her creative flame alive, gifting us with a reimagining of her seminal work “Rooms” (1955) to Kenyon Hopkins’ tense, jagged jazz score, now re-titled “Rooms2020.”
“Rooms2020” was to have been presented in a live season which was aborted by the current Covid crisis. Instead, the troupe has presented the work artfully streamed in a version that is more realistic, each section filmed by the dancers themselves and edited with artistic precision and a feeling for its dramatic arc by associate artistic director Lauren Naslund to make a cogent whole. (The other directors are the founder Jim May, Samantha Geracht and Eleanor Bunker.)
Originally presented on stage in a bare-bones manner in which different style chairs, each occupied by a dancer, were spread about the stage. Each chair represented a room in which the different characters were confined, leaving them free to express their inner angst. This virtual edition uses actual locations—assumedly the dancers’ own apartments—instead.
Although placing “Rooms2020” in the “real world” changes the focus, it somehow gains relevance by zapping the choreography into the up-to-the-minute.
This manifestation begins with an aerial journey through New York City’s many apartment buildings, including, in a bit of homage, the late Sokolow’s domicile. The eight dancers who comprise the cast are seen drooped over chairs in eight different apartments, slowly coming to slow motion life.
In “Dream” Samuel Humphreys stretches over pieces of furniture while he imagines romping freely in a park. In “Escape” Erin Gottwald fumbles sensually at her polka dot covered dress suggesting sexual frustration. She even checks herself on a cell phone.
Vibrating every part of his body from shoulders to toes, Brad Orego might be recalling a triumphant race or a dance he was part of—or is he just imagining? Six dancers perform “Desire,” their individual frustrations clear in shuffling feet, arms that float involuntarily up and odd, tight rolling on the floor.
Luis Gabriel Zaragoza in “Panic” can barely contain his pain, sliding stiffly off his chair into hyper-curved positions on the floor.
Three women—Erika Langmeyer, Sierra Powell and Ilana Ruth Cohen—in their individual apartment cocoons, of course, float through the most lyric section, perfectly titled “Daydreams,” while Margherita Tisato in the quietly anguished “The End?” considers, but somehow rejects, suicide.
The “Coda” brings them all back to their original positions. Have they changed?
The movements are generally simple, but the dancers vivify them with emotion that flows from Sokolow’s knowing eye. Despite the darkness of the work, it is rich in detail. Watch it for its essential artistry. There are shades of all of us in these unhappy but determined people.
It’s worth noting that after viewing “Rooms2020” the Sokolow site also offers videos of other works plus a brilliant Camera Three interview of Anna Sokolow beautifully narrated by Uta Hagen. The insight to Sokolow’s creative appetites and allusions is worth a visit.
Sokolow Theatre/Dance Ensemble in “Rooms2020”
Streaming through July 25, 2020, at http://www.sokolowtheatredance.org/rooms-2020
Running time: 47 minutes