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George Jackson Reviews Dakshina


by George Jackson
November 07, 2010
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Anna Sokolow did not make her dances easy to deliver or to digest. Performing them puts dancers under constant stress.¬†Tension is maintained for long stretches at a¬†time and even recumbent poses require effort.¬†The audience is¬†fed treats (bravura steps, decorative groupings) frugally. The¬†admonition is¬†to pay attention to substance – the interaction of¬†feeling, meaning and motion.¬†That interaction can¬†be stark and acrid, or pliant and ripe. Sometimes, as in “Frida”,¬†it is almost jaunty with a¬†hint of mint. Sokolow does not shun pitfalls – mixing music, reducing figures to types –¬†which become part of her vision: dance as everyday life with a holiday just once in a while.

“September Sonnet”, the program’s middle piece, is in the form a classical pas de deux –¬†sort of. A woman and a man meet and engage, each then¬†has a solo variation before they come together again in a coda that resolves their relationship. Strangely,¬†Sokolow’s protagonists¬†avoid¬†looking at each other in their initial encounter. Without¬†making¬†eye contact, they do touch and this¬†even elicits quivers, but¬†all the while¬†they¬†gaze¬†up overhead or peer past one another. Such¬†behavior¬†gives their affair¬†a furtive air that perhaps can be called¬†autumnal, Septemberish.¬†Into the man’s variation Sokolow puts candy – just a little leg action of the¬†showy, near¬†balletic sort. Mostly, though,¬†it is¬†line and lyricism that are¬†called for.¬†The woman’s variation is about the expression of tensions, the revelation of feelings.¬†In the coda, the man’s ¬†and woman’s eyes finally¬†meet,¬†but¬†only a little. I concluded that, constitutionally, they¬†distrust¬†youthful joy.¬†Sokolow herself didn’t seem to trust any one composition¬†because she took the¬† music for¬†“September Sonnet” from¬†four different composers – Arvo Part, Sergei Rachmaninoff, Francis Poulenc and Robert Schumann.

All of Sokolow’s¬†“Dreams”¬†are¬†nightmares: the woman precariously balancing on the shoulders of four sinister men, the¬†drummer frantically tapping on every available surface but unable to find a drum, the¬†trio of belles with flowers¬†opening from the¬†palms of their hands¬†like stigmata while they keep on posing¬†and primping¬†pointlessly, and so forth.¬†Some dreams resonate¬†as archetypes and others seem¬† stereotypes¬†but in all of them Sokolow¬†skillfully captures¬†the trapped feeling one has in a bad dream¬†of being unable to stop whatever it is one is doing despite knowing one ought to.¬†Much of “Dreams” is in silence¬†interrupted by dancer-made sound and snatches¬†music from¬†Bach, Teo Macero and Webern.

“Frida”,¬†a set of sketches based on¬†the life and work of the Mexican painter Frida Kahlo, I had liked a lot¬†at a¬†rehearsal showing. It is¬†for Sokolow a step rich and rhythmically buoyant work,¬†but at Friday’s performance it seemed studied and failed to¬†gain momentum. Some of the problem may have been that not one dancer but several¬†took the Frida role, a different one in each scene, and so there was no build up.¬†Also¬†the blackouts between scenes¬†interrupted. One scene shows Frida in a love relationship with a man. Again, as in the earlier “September Sonnet”, this duet of Sokolow’s is a dance of tentative togetherness. In the final¬†scene,¬†the¬†dancers who previously had taken the title role form Frida’s¬† funeral cortege – a nice touch but one¬†that easily escapes attention.

Dakshina is looking good as a company. Its ensembles cohere. It can convey the Mexican sizzle of “Frida” and it triggered the Ausdruckstanz chill of “Dreams”. The two dancers¬†in the fragile “September Sonnet”, Melissa Greco Liu and¬† company director Daniel Phoenix Singh, gave their solos meaning. His became a soliloquy and hers a confession. Lorry May’s staging¬†of the three¬†works* made each quite distinct. Yet, I’m¬† ambivalent about Sokolow. There’s much to admire as the dancers work her vision but movement¬†didn’t¬†often spring from her imagination spontaneously. Perhaps I’m asking for too much holiday.

*Sokolow’s¬†“Rooms” instead of her “Dreams” was danced at the November 4 performance.

Anna Sokolow’s “Frida”, “September Sonnet” and “Dreams”‚Ä®Dakshina¬†/ Daniel Phoenix Singh Dance Company‚Ä®Kay Theater‚Ä®Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center‚Ä®The University of Maryland at College Park‚Ä®November 5, 2010