One of the great pioneers of modern dance who remained a driving force throughout her entire career was Anna Sokolow (1910-2000). Sokolow studied with Martha Graham, Blanch Talmud and Louis Horst at the Neighborhood Playhouse in New York where she also studied voice and pantomime. Sokolow performed with the Graham Dance Company for 8 years, assisted Horst in his composition classes and in 1933 she developed the Theatre Union Dance Group, which in 1935 was renamed “Dance Unit”.

A primary interest of Sokolow’s was the injustices that she saw taking place around the country and she used her talents to portray her concerns through drama, comedy, and lyricism. She was famous for provoking audiences into becoming more aware of the social injustices that were happening in plain sight all around them.

Sokolow had a lasting association with the dance and theater arts in Mexico, leading to the formation of the National Academy of Dance. In 1953 she was invited to Israel to work with the Inbal Dance Company and later choreographed for the major dance companies in Israel including Batsheva, Kibbutz Dance Company, and Lyric Theatre.

Sokolow also choreographed for the Broadway theater. Her credits include Street Scene, Camino Real, Candide, and the original Hair. In the late 1950’s Ms. Sokolow was the first modern dance choreographer to have her work (Rooms) presented on national television. Sokolow received numerous awards including the Dance Magazine Award, Lifetime Achievement Award from the American/Israeli Cultural Foundation, and the highest Mexican award presented to a civilian, the Aztec Eagle Honor.

Presently, Sokolow’s works are performed by the Sokolow Theatre/Dance Ensemble, founded in 2004 and led by Artistic Director Samantha Géracht, and Jim May, Director, and her choreography continues to be performed by companies around the world. Sokolow Theatre/Dance Ensemble just announced at two-week extension of its online Rooms2020, a virtual performance video of Anna Sokolow’s Rooms available now through August 8, 2020.

ROOMS - Alone, pictured Margherita Tisato ROOMS - Desire (women), pictured Margherita Tisato, Sierra Powell, Ilana Ruth Cohen ROOMS - The Dreamer, pictured Samuel Humphreys ROOMS - The End_ 2, pictured Margherita Tisato Dreamer 4 Brad Orego in Going Erika Langmeyer, Sierra Powell, Ilana Cohen in Daydream
"Rooms2020" Choreography by Anna Sokolow - Erika Langmeyer, Sierra Powell, Ilana Cohen in Daydream - Photo courtesy of Michelle Tabnick Public Relations

Known as one of Sokolow’s masterpieces, Rooms “examined the psychic isolation and unfulfilled desires of characters isolated in their small, city apartments. The controversial and groundbreaking work breathed with the loneliness and alienation following the breakdown of wartime solidarity, when the threat of atomic annihilation, the 1952 polio epidemic, and the Red Scare hung like invisible contagions and created a mood of pervasive uncertainty and dread over America”.

Before the pandemic spread throughout the world The Sokolow Theatre/Dance Ensemble was in rehearsals for a March performance titled “Real+Surreal” and would have also included Sokolow’s 1970 surrealist dance/theatre work Magritte, Magritte. The performance was designed to celebrate the 65th and 55th year of these two monumental works by Sokolow.

Long time dance writer, Deborah Jowitt wrote in DanceBeat “Watching this thoughtfully reconceived version of Rooms, you’re aware of the silences and the stillnesses that pit both the choreography and Hopkins’s emotionally and environmentally charged score. Is this what being alone for a long time feels like? What to do next? Why get out of bed? Are you going crazy? Are you alone by choice? If you died, who would bury your bones? Instead, let us thank the powers that be for the sunshine and the moonlight and the grass that continues to grow. And thank the spirit of Anna Sokolow for showing us the darkness so fiercely.”

The performers in Room2020 recorded themselves from the privacy of their homes and the film was edited by Associate Artistic Director Lauren Naslund. The dancers include Samuel Humphreys, Erin Gottwald, Brad Orego, Luis Gabriel Zaragoza, Sierra Powell ILana Ruth Cohen, Erika Langmeyer, and Margherita Tisato.

To view Rooms2020, click HERE.

To visit the Sokolow Theatre/Dance Ensemble website, click HERE.

Written by Jeff Slayton for LA Dance Chronicle.

Featured image: Margherita Tisato in The End, section of Rooms choreography by Anna Sokolow – Photo by Sam Waxman