Artistic Director Jim May, Yayoi Suzuki, and
Luis Gabriel Zaragoza in rehearsal of Odes

Photo by Phillip Gardner ~ See additional rehearsal photos

Sounds of Sokolow: Odes (1965)

Merce Cunningham Studio
55 Bethune Street, 11th floor, New York, NY
November 10–13, 2011

A Review

My first contact with Anna Sokolow was in 1943. Nikolais had asked her to take over his company when he left to serve in the Army during WWII. In class she was a tough one. The leg was never straight enough, the carriage never tall enough, the runs never fast enough, the silence never still enough. Never enough. She carried a big stick to beat out the time and occasionally an offending part. Of course, her choreography bore this same discipline.

The program this afternoon started with Two Preludes (1985), a dance Anna composed to two Rachmaninoff preludes for Evelyn Shepard, who revived it for this program with dancer Melissa Birnbaum. This piece was the “softest” of Anna’s works on the program and a gracious opening, although true to Anna’s aesthetic, the performance was disciplined and contained.

The next dance was not Anna’s but rather a solo choreographed by Ernestine Stodelle. At the Still Point of the Turning World (1975), accompanied by text from T.S. Elliot’s Four Quartets, was reconstructed by Gail Corbin and danced by Lauren Naslund. I found this a strange insertion of a foreign genre into the program. Although disciplined in choreography and performance, the motion in the work relates more to Humphrey than Sololow.

Then we had yet another solo, Passage, to another Rachmaninoff prelude choreographed and danced by artistic director Jim May in the Sokolow heritage. Jim steps out a bit from the discipline, uses some mime-based motion, a rather more eccentric lighting design, and relates to the viewer more directly while the motion itself retains the Sokolow hard core.

Then came the showing of an edited video of Anna herself teaching Odes to group at Ohio State University in 1966. This was fun for me, for here was hard-core Anna herself, prodding the dancers to ever more exactness, ever more energy.

And then the live performance of Odes to a driving Varèse score for flute and piano. One cannot ignore the impact of two dozen dancers on the same stage, the atmosphere of intrigue produced by the entrances and exits, the weaving of dissimilar movement. Perhaps this is modern dance at its apex—somehow mathematical in motion answering motion, the energy fierce and controlled, the structure contained, a work in the frame of the proscenium.

This program reminds me of what Anna herself said to our Hartford class: “Although I didn’t do much in the Graham company but stand still, I did stand still, with the best, the very stillest still I could.”

I could stand more revivals.

—Ruth Grauert, November 14, 2011