The way Anna Sokolow (1910 – 2000) seems to have worked was to build small scenes, distinct cells of drama on stage and tie them together into necklaces, bracelets or rosaries. She hadn’t large numbers of dancers at her disposal, so she avoided group architecture on a big scale and cumulative symphonic constructs. No single technique, as there is in Martha Graham’s choreography, joins Sokolow’s dances. Yet clarity of action and economy of means are typical of each cell, of every Sokolow vignette, no matter how multiple may be its means and meanings.
Photo: The veiled ballroom dancers (Helen Marie Carruthers and Daniel Phoenix Singh) in Anna Sakolow’s “Magritte Magritte”, photo by Stephen Baronovics.
“Flying Cloud Cotillion”, “Crowdambo”, “Five”, Rue Noir”,
“A Change Is Gonna Come”, “Festival”
Chamber Dance Project
The Lansburgh Theatre
June 23, 2016
by George Jackson
copyright 2016 by George Jackson
Summers in and about Washington used to be hot, humid and hopping with dance. This year’s weather has been temperate and, probably for reasons that have nothing to do with temperature or moisture, the area’s open air theaters aren’t particularly interested in presenting dance. Wolf Trap is offering a little (Riverdance and American Ballet Theatre’s “Romeo and Juliet”) and Carter Barron is still promising the season’s schedule “soon”. All the more reason to be grateful for Diane Coburn Bruning’s project – a small, summer-only company of dancers on annual vacation from their regular fall-winter-spring work. Not hidden in the pit but sharing the stage are musicians - two types during the current run, either a string quartet or a brass marching band. Repertory for performances through June 26 consists of four dance pieces and two primarily musical ones.
The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts
June 1, 2016
by George Jackson
copyright 2016 by George Jackson
The interview of Swedish choreographer Mats Ek by the Washington Post’s dance critic and cultural reporter Sarah Kaufman started late. Sweden House is diplomatic territory and it took time to check everyone through security. That, however, gave members of the audience once inside a chance to look at pictures of Ek’s dances by Canadian photographer Lesley Leslie-Spinks. The exhibit remains at Sweden House through August 28. Official host of this occasion was the Embassy of Sweden. Its representative, Linda Zachrison, graciously introduced the Kennedy Center’s Meg Booth and the choreographers organization’s Vladimir Angelov, who had helped with planning and publicity. She also mentioned members of the Royal Swedish Ballet in attendance (its director Johannes Oehman and a small group of its dancers) plus Mats Ek’s spouse – Ana Laguna, the veteran dancer. Laguna’s long grayish hair was streaming. She looked like a sorceress.
Paul Taylor plays with the casual and the formal as if these were twin concepts and not opposite poles. His kaleidoscope of patterns, so decorative at first, so deliberately circumspect, can suddenly acquire meanings, suggest feelings, express moods that make one wonder about being, about life. Even so, having watched five of Taylor’s dances on the two programs shown in Washington, I wasn’t prepared for the sixth and last piece, “Promethean Fire”. Everyone in it, all seven men and eight women, is dressed in what the 1940s termed overalls. These overalls were are not just black but velvety black and marked with cresting lines that reflected a dull gold glow. That combination of simplicity and sumptuousness by designer Santo Loquasto matches Taylor’s choice of music – a toccata and fugue plus a prelude by Johann Sebastian Bach as orchestrated cinescopically, surrealistically by Leopold Stokowski. Bach wasn’t a totally new soundscape for Taylor when “Promethean Fire” was “first performed in 2002” but Stokowski’s arrangement preserves the music’s persistent pulse and gives it internal space for turmoil, struggle and triumph. Taylor leaves no doubt that Prometheus’s flame is the light of human love. He makes sure we get his point by quoting Shakespeare in the printed program. Then he illustrates the idea using as his materials motions and positions that depict agony, resolve and capacity. There is, too, placement that show the body surpassing itself, and yet the choreography’s economy is remarkable.
Glade is a group mostly of women dancers. The one man featured was a guest artist - a musician who also moved. Choreography for all of the pieces was by the performers, separately or jointly.Their sense of what suits them is keen. One work featured just musicians playing a string quartet while seated, but their actions were so vivid that I count them as choreography too.
A dozen years ago, a newcomer caught Washington’s dance eye. Intense, even when standing still, she moved with concentrated force whether flamenco, modern dance or balletic styling was called for. Soon she was choreographing portraits of problematic women – such as Mata Hari – for herself. She showed these throughout the country and won attention for what seemed a fresh approach to sensuality and protest. More recently, Yatkin has toured the world. From dancing and teaching in more than 20 different countries, Yatkin returned to Washington this past weekend with a long solo and a movie about her globe trotting.
Although it is crammed with art, The National Gallery provides spaces in which visitors can rest their eyes. In one of these, the West Garden Court, there are huge columns, many green plants and a fountain structure but no exhibited objects. A hush seems to hang between the huge room’s skylight and its terraced marble floors. It is a lovely spot, yet difficult to use as a stage. Sight lines are obstructed and acoustics may sound muffled or acquire overtones. Petr Zuska (he is a dancer from Prague) and Jen Shyu (she is an Asian American musician based in New York) chose to perform their “dialogue” in this grand yet sheltering and also challenging location. Actually, the two entertainers’ artistic territories overlapped. She moved about and even danced a bit in addition to playing a variety of string instruments, vocalizing and producing sound with her high heels. He too, after dancing, sat down to handle musical instruments. Both contended not just with architectural facets of the place but with the motions of a rather restless audience. What sort of dancer is Zuska and what type of musician is Shyu?
The title of Paxton’s solo for a male dancer is open ended. Prometheus sprang to mind instantly, before the performance began. Actual images of the action linger. One, from the dance’s final section, is of a man moving into a light beam along a cord or wire that seems strung through his head. Vivid, too, in my memory are the program’s curtain calls. The performer - Jurij Konjar – came out by himself and then brought on choreographer Paxton. Out of character and no longer behaving “as Paxton”, Konjar differed from both the choreographer’s current self and his own personification of him younger. It was then that I realized how good an actor Konjar had been.
Peabody Dance, a training institution 102 years old, has an artistic advisor who is 90 years old - Barbara Weisberger. Her birthday was celebrated by the institute’s spring showcase and two adjoining events: a biographical, historical interview with her and, of course, a party. Ballet, modern dance and structured improvisation - the three sorts of dance featured at the showcase - were performed by trainees and faculty from Peabody Dance plus a couple of guests from the School of Pennsylvania Ballet (Weisberger was the founder of Pennsylvania Ballet) but also by Peabody musicians (the Peabody Institute’s music programs date back 159 years). It was a pleasure to have live music for half of the program’s eight dances!
Poland has the bad luck of being situated between some of the world’s great powers, as historian Jan Karski details not without irony in his 1985 tome*. Company E’s Polish program had the bad luck of coinciding, first, with the huge January snowfall which closed down much of the Washington area and then being rescheduled for March 16 and 17, performances that took place despite the metro train shutdown on March 16 resulting in a half-empty house. The Family Theater was full on Thursday evening, March 17, for the four scheduled “Polish” dance works and for presentations of Washington Performing Arts’ recent “Polas” -- dance awards named for the late dancer/choreographer/teacher, Polish born Pola Nirenska who was Karski’s wife. What the program’s examples of choreography shared other than their national label was, arguably, a fascination with relationships – person to person but instances, too, of feelings connecting individuals and the group.
DIRGE by Pola Nirenska. Image by Paul Gordon Emerson
Pictured: Alicia Canterna, Tara Ashley Compton, Rima Faber, Abby Leithart, Kathryn Sydell Pilkington, Kyoko Ruch