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Preview in TheNewGay.net

By Chris Wingert for thenewgay.net.

After watching the Dakshina dancers’ run-through of “Dreams,” the 1961 piece created and choreographed by Anna Sokolow, I was left with a number of lingering images. A woman, her face contorted in terror, opens her mouth to scream, but no noise comes. A man clenches his outstretched fist repeatedly with his other hand as if to pull himself away from something, his pace quickening to a frenzy that leads to a breakdown. A group of individuals pull their own necks and bodies down to the ground as they struggle against the force. “Dreams,” inspired by images of the Holocaust, is a powerful piece. Washington audiences have the opportunity to see this work in Dakshina/Daniel Phoenix Singh Dance Company’s performances this weekend.

Dakshina is a unique dance company with an inspired vision. Founder Daniel Phoenix Singh strives to connect a number of different dance styles and is particularly drawn to Indian, Latin, Social and Modern dance forms. In addition to the modern “Dreams,” this weekend’s performances will feature Bharata Natyam, one of the oldest Indian temple dance forms. Also on the program is “Undoing Measures,” a company premiere from guest choreographer Darla Stanley.

But back to “Dreams.” Lorry May, the founding director of the Sokolow Dance Foundation, has been working in residence with Dakshina off and on for the last few weeks. May, herself a soloist with Anna Sokolow for over thirty years, started the Foundation as a way to preserve and present this body of work.

It was clear in rehearsal that May focuses on the movement itself and allows her dancers to discover the piece through the choreography. May is not a teacher who hits students over the head with a message; instead, as she said, “the movement speaks the emotion.” I sat down with May after watching the final run of “Dreams” and asked about her thoughts on the piece. After an introspective moment, she exhaled and said, “It’s about man’s inhumanity to man.” The piece, comprised of a number of small vignettes, does not set out to tell specific stories, but instead shows reactions and emotional responses.

I was struck by Sokolow’s use of physical motifs throughout the piece. The movement, as May describes it, is “intimate and subtle.” These subtleties appear over and over, sometimes just in one dancers form, other times across the whole group. It doesn’t matter if you know that the parallel arms slowly shifting from side to side represent the railroad tracks that brought so many to the concentration camps. What is fascinating about the piece is that this movement, along with countless other motifs, is woven seamlessly throughout and as a result, the audience is continually drawn in to the experience.

The music backdrop varies, from chaotic saxophones to eerily warm classical strings, and the stark stops and starts of the sound are powerful. However, the most dramatic moments come in silence. This silence is broken by the choreography itself with breath, slaps on the body, guttural vocal utterances and, in one especially striking moment, manic drumming. The Dakshina dancers are a talented bunch and go to the limits of physicality throughout the piece. Indeed, much of the choreography is strong, tense, and gritty.

The performances this weekend promise to be rich experiences for both the dancers and the audience. Performances are Saturday, May 9th and 8:00pm and Sunday, May 10th at 7:00pm at Dance Place, located at 3225 8th Street NE in Washington DC. Tickets range from $14-22 and can be purchased at Dance Place or by calling 202-269-1600. For more information, visit Dakshina/Daniel Phoenix Singh Dance Company. And congrats to Dan and the entire Dakshina company who recently received an NEA grant support their continued work with Lorry May.