Sokolow Modern Dance – Serious Business

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Manhattan, December 1984

Anna Sokolow’s Player’s Project, presented at the Riverside Dance Festival, may be summed up in two words: Serious Business.

I expected to see some historical modern dance, and that’s what I got. Ms. Sokolow began her career with Martha Graham and Louis Horst, and went on to form her own group in 1937. Graham’s probable influence was evident in Ms. Sokolow’s ‘Lyric Suite’ (1953), in the form of contractions, spasmodic releases and ponderous attitudes. Furthermore, during the ‘Adagio Appassionato’, a softer sort of round dance by four lovely ladies in red gowns, I expected Graham to come onstage any moment. She did not, but Dian Dong, Kathleen Quinlan, Risa Steinberg and Susan Thomasson did an excellent job with the choreography.

During the intermission, I conversed with a matronly gentlewoman on my left. We noted how the audience consisted of mature men and women and young artists (many of the latter were dancers). The middle generation was markedly under-represented. She remarked that Anna Sokolow had been around for many, many years, and asked why I’d come to see her work. “To see the real thing,” I replied.

Following the intermission, we watched ‘Ballade’ (1965). I do not remember much of it, except that it was a ballet, and that my attention was diverted by the wonderful music of Alexander Scriabin, played live and marvelously so by Richard Justin Fields.

During the pause, my new acquaintance waxed enthusiastic about the music, then asked me if I liked the dances. I said, passing over the ballet just presented, that only the very best of ballet turns me on. However, I said I did enjoy ‘Lyric Suite’, which seemed to be a modern dance representing various emigrants landing in America (I did not have the slightest knowledge of Sokolow’s intentions).

I further remarked that I enjoy the modern form of dance not because it arouses me emotionally, but because it makes me think. My seating companion rejoined that she had been attending modern dances for a very long time, and found them boring. I had noticed that she had fallen asleep during ‘Ballade’, and was about to ask her whether her boredom was due any distinction between ballet and modern dance, or if the music simply lulled her into a pleasant nap; but the show continued before I could ask.

‘Steps of Silence’ (1984 Premiere), with an introductory narration from THE FIRST CIRCLE by Solzhenitsyn, concluded the program. The impressions given here of prisoners did not inflame the passions. However, the choreography effectively and efficiently achieved its purpose: to recreate that dull affect of shuffling prisoners limping zombie-like to occasionally huddle together here and there. They looked like brainwashed, empty shells devoid of any capacity for passion. And in the end, they were blown across the stage of life along with the newspapers that reveal, all to no avail, their most miserable plight. No, nothing spectacular here. But long live Anna Sokolow, still true to the modern tradition.

As the cast took its bows, not one smile was to be seen on a face. Yes, I thought, this is very Serious Business!


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