Sokolow Theatre/Dance Ensemble

Sokolow Theatre/Dance Ensemble’s Francesca Todesco and Benjamin Cortes in Anna Sokolow’s Magritte, Magritte
Photo by Robin Meems, courtesy Sokolow Theatre/Dance Ensemble

Sokolow Theatre/Dance Ensemble
Dance Theater Workshop, NYC
July 6–8, 2006
Reviewed by Emily Macel

 

Sokolow Theatre/Dance Ensemble keeps Anna Sokolow’s legacy, described by critic Walter Sorell as “theater danced and danced theater,” alive. For this program, artistic director Jim May restaged Sokolow’s quintessential dance-theater piece Magritte, Magritte (1970), which hasn’t been performed for more than 20 years; the evening also showcased the U.S. premieres of two 2004 works inspired by Sokolow’s creative process: May’s Starburst and David Parker’s La Nef Des Fous (Ship of Fools).

Sokolow created works that merged emotion with movement, often dealing with weighty subjects like the Great Depression, the Holocaust, and the alienated youth of the 1960s. Magritte, Magritte does not address such grand-scale disasters; instead, it tackles the story behind the art of Belgian surrealist Rene Magritte.

In the form of an eight-act play, the piece spins a collage out of dancing, poetry, acting and Magritte’s recognizable art. Les Amants, a painting in which two lovers are masked by white cloths that convey emotional and sexual separation, is transformed into a soulful, waltzlike duet. Far from the beauty and elegance of the dancing lovers, one comedic section is done in the style of a French farce. Magritte’s derby-hatted character whose face is covered by a bright green apple (in Sokolow’s case, a green balloon), in his Son of Man, makes several appearances. Poetry, including John White’s nonsensical “Ago!” and Edgar Allen Poe’s “Alone,” intersects with the dancing. In the end there are no dancers, just a pair of boots representing Magritte’s painting The Red Model, in which the soles of the tattered footwear have sprouted human feet. The focus throughout—intentional or not—was on theater rather than dance, which was marred by a few moments of clumsiness.

Starburst fused music and dance in a seamless, magical way. A quintet of musicians, France’s le concert impromptu, played their instruments and danced simultaneously. Bassoons and flutes were shoved between legs and under arms during spins; clarinets and oboes became appendages. The music, and the way their bodies played music, inspired the movements, which included rhythmic walking and playing instruments while supine. It was easy to get caught up in the dancing with the props and forget that the musician/dancers were creating their own beautiful symphony at the same time.
The quintet dueled playfully with the Sokolow dancers in La Nef Des Fous. At times the dancers controlled the musicians, moving them around the stage, weaving between them, and guiding the music by clapping, stomping their feet, and slapping their bodies to inspire rhythms and musical shifts. Then the quintet took control, facilitating the dancers’ movements with its music. Although it was never clear which group was winning, their interactions were delightful to watch. See www.sokolowtheatredance.org.

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