"Sokolow 100th Birthday Tribute"
Sokolow Theatre/Dance Ensemble
92nd St. Y Buttenwieser Hall
New York, NY
February 14, 2010
By Martha Sherman
Copyright © 2010 by Martha Sherman
An overflowing house cheered Anna Sokolow’s legacy in a 100th birthday tribute at the 92nd St. Y on Sunday. Sokolow had first shown many of her pieces here, in simple Buttenwieser Hall, celebrating its own 75th year, and now the longest continuously used dance space in New York City. Looking around the room, it wasn’t just the dance and the space that provided the history, but generations of dancers who had trained with Sokolow and made up much of this admiring audience. The crowd was living history.
Nine short works and excerpts were presented, including two versions of the iconic solo “Kaddish,” which Sokolow reshaped on different dancers continually through her lifetime. Each of the works included dancers swooping, open-armed through space and gazing skyward in her trademark style. The flowing draped skirts swirling and the sharply angled elbow encircling a shoulder were a familiar signature. The vocabulary, rooted deeply in Graham’s, was a reminder of the interweaving among the early and mid-20th Century dance artists and their shared rebellion. So many of contemporary dance’s essentials are taken for granted that this year of legacy tributes is a welcome reminder of where it all comes from: who took the chances and made the leaps.
“Kaddish” opened the program. Rabbi Robert Sheinberg stood on one side of the stage and sang the traditional Jewish prayer of mourning, both exotic and familiar. Samantha Geracht danced this version (originally created in 1986 for Dian Dong, who was in the audience,) dressed in black, with the wrapped black thong of prayer tefillin snaked up her arm. In the small personal space of the choreography, Geracht’s arms wrapped her as well, the curve of her arm, her skirt, and her upward profile evoking letters of the Hebrew alphabet. The flow of movement spoke of sorrow and yearning.
A second version of “Kaddish” was one of the closing pieces. This time, it was danced by the original dancer, Deborah Zall, also dressed in black but now with blood red streaks of fabric instead of tefillin encircling her left arm. This version was a silent scream, Zall’s hands holding her face in despair. In her upturned glance, the prayer was laced with bitter accusation, and though she looked up, she was weighted with gravity, pulled down against her will. Again, dancing in a tight circle of space, Zall tried to break free from her interior prison, and crumpled in anguish.
The two couples of “Ballade” (1965) swirled across the stage, the women streaming pastel skirts in long diagonals. There were no small movements here; the lines were wide and broad, everything moving relentlessly forward. The foursome became the arpeggios of Scriabin’s piano accompaniment. Elegant in pale lilac, Gregory Zaragoza and longtime Sokolow Players’ Project dancer Eleanor Bunker moved like water across a smooth surface. In the gorgeous “Preludes” (1981), Charis Haines inhabited the richness of the Rachmaninoff score as fully as she inhabited the flowing red costume that Sokolow designed for this piece and for her original dancer, Tonia Shimin, who introduced the work on Sunday.
The Sokolow Theatre/Dance Ensemble, directed by one of Sokolow’s longtime principal dancers, Jim May, is made of generations of her dancers and their successors. The diversity of ages and bodies were set off in the line of eight dancers (including May) who danced an excerpt from “Kurt Weill” (1988), twisted together with ubiquitous angled elbows. Moving into four couples, the architecture of the line split into a tango, each couples’ sharp gestures serious, but with a gleam in the eye. In another architectural fragment called “Desire” (from the 1955 work “Rooms,”) six dancers used folding chairs set in opposing lines to anchor the movement of their lower bodies; their feet moving in a journey taking them nowhere. When they moved to the floor, smoothly rolling and kicking but not embracing, the jazzy piano and compulsive bass line of Kenyon Hopkins’s music underscored the sexiness – and frustration – of desire without connection.
Sokolow’s artistic connections to Mexico (in “Frida” and “Murals”) and to Israel and Jewish culture (“Kaddish,” “Four Songs”) were described as part of her many links to a wider world. The powerful connections she made were brilliantly in evidence in this legacy celebration, not only in the dance itself, but also in a magical energy that she successfully transferred, live and thriving, to a grateful community of artists.
copyright © 2010 by Martha Sherman
Top Photo: Anna Sokolow in "Kaddish" 1945
Bottom Photo: Sarah Geracht in "Kaddish" by Meems