George Jackson Reviews Dakshina
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” Dakshina / Daniel Phoenix Singh Dance Company Kay Theater Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center The University of Maryland at College Park November 5, 2010