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Jack Anderson



Anna Sokolow Way
From the Horse’s Mouth
Theater at the 14th Street Y, 344 East 14th Street
December 5, 2013
Reviewed by Jack Anderson, December 9, 2013

The section of Christopher Street by the Greenwich Village apartment building in which Anna Sokolow lived has been renamed Anna Sokolow Way. That was also what From the Horse’s Mouth called its series of programs honoring this fiery American modern dancer, teacher, and choreographer who died in 2000 after several decades of both inspiring and scaring dancers, students, and audiences.

Like other Horse’s Mouth programs for the past 15 years, this one adhered to a now-familiar, but still sound, format devised by Horse’s Mouth founders and directors Tina Croll and Jamie Cunningham. Someone associated with the evening’s subject takes center stage and offers commentary or reminiscences while other dancers gesture on the sidelines in improvised responses to those remarks until the speaker finishes and gives way to another commentator. And so the evening proceeds. From time to time, as a respite to the verbiage, processions of dancers pass downstage on a diagonal performing actions presumably related to the evening’s subject, after which reminiscences resume.

The words are more than exercises in nostalgia; they tend to be shrewd appraisals of dance world luminaries by people who knew them well. Croll and Cunningham have established a project of great documentary value: the words do indeed come straight from the “horse’s mouth.” Although the gestural fussing at the side of the stage occasionally proves distracting, such moments are rare. The commentaries are brief and informative, and the evening speeds ahead without a break.

Thursday’s participants, from the worlds of dance, theater, music, journalism, and medicine, had worked with Sokolow here in the United States, Mexico, and Israel, and they agreed on at least two things.

Anna Sokolow could be monstrous. Anna Sokolow could be wonderful.

Deborah Jowitt described one occasion when “she threw a chair at us.” Such outbursts were apparently not unusual in class and rehearsal. Margo Sappington, a former Joffrey Ballet dancer, described how when Sokolow arrived as a guest choreographer for the company she literally shook up the dancers. “We were quite taken aback,” Sappington recalled. That was putting it mildly.

Sokolow could be abrasive, yet she had wisdom to impart. She believed that movements should have emotional sources, and strong emotions particularly fascinated her. At the same time, she valued choreographic structure, and although many of her dances were explosive, she taught Jennifer Muller to value contrasts between “inevitability and surprise.” After saying that Sokolow always demanded “more, more, and more” from dancers, Ze’eva Cohen added that “more” could mean “lyricism and tenderness” as well as ferocity. Kevin Conroy told a story that summed up some of Sokolow’s contradictions as teacher and person: after a class uproar in which Sokolow ordered him to leave the room, which he refused to do (wisely, it turns out), she came up to him and whacked him on the head, then kissed him on the cheek.

A sense of Sokolow in action was provided by brief film clips showing her rehearsing dancers, making every word and gesture cry out, “More!”

In addition to those named, speakers included Dian Dong, Danny Lewis, Susan Thomasson, Tonia Shimin, Celia Ipiotis, Aviva Davidson, Laura Glenn, Mark DeGarmo, Joel Thome, Norton Owen, Deborah Zall, Allen Maniker, Yasuko Tokunaga, Luis Gabriel Zaragoza, and Jane Lowe; Tina Croll read a statement from Jennifer Dunning.



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