The flyer for the Anna Sokolow centennial exhibition in Tel Aviv. Courtesy Henia Rottenberg.
Attention dance history fans: this year is the centennial of choreographer Anna Sokolow’s birth, and her artistic achievements are being commemorated around the world, including in Israel. In this guest article, Hannah Kosstrin, who recently visited Tel Aviv to research Sokolow’s work here, reflects on Sokolow’s influence on dance in Israel and highlights upcoming centennial celebrations.
Celebration in Pictures: Anna Sokolow Centennial at the Dance Library of Israel
By Hannah Kosstrin
A new exhibit at the Dance Library of Israel celebrates the life and work of Anna Sokolow (1910-2000), whose centennial is celebrated this month. Sokolow, an American-born Jewish choreographer who worked internationally and considered Israel her second home, carved out a space for herself in the Israeli dance landscape. She first came to Tel Aviv in 1953 on the recommendation of Jerome Robbins and with the support of the America-Israel Cultural Foundation, where she worked with Sara Levi-Tanai and Inbal Yemenite Dance Group (Inbal Dance Theatre). In the early 1960s, she established her Lyric Theatre. This company was active for months out of each year, and toured cities and kibbutzim throughout Israel. Later, she choreographed for Israeli companies including Batsheva Dance Company, Bat-Dor Dance Company, Kibbutz Contemporary Dance Company, Chamber Theatre, Springboard Dance Company, and Habima. Her work touched many dancers and teachers who remain prominent in dance in Israel, including Paul Bloom, Galia Gat, Rena Gluck, Yaron Margolin, Moshe Romano, and Rena Schenfeld, and Ze’eva Cohen and Margalit Oved, who work in the United States.
With the Lyric Theatre (1962-1964), Sokolow continued to develop her performance form that she termed lyric theater, a combination of dancing and acting that blurred the lines between disciplines and created works wherein performers drew from both movement and acting bodies of knowledge. Such works include Rooms and Dreams, originally created in the U.S. and then performed by the Lyric Theatre, and Forms and Poem, for which Sokolow worked closely with Israeli dancers to mount. Sokolow was concerned foremost with truth in movement and with honesty in dancers’ performance. Using elements of the Stanislavsky Method that she garnered through a trip to Russia in 1934 and work with Elia Kazan and the Actors Studio in New York through the 1950s, Sokolow drew from performers’ own experiences to craft their characters within the context of each work. Sokolow trained in Martha Graham’s technique through her work with that company during the 1930s. Many of Sokolow’s dances from the 1930s-1940s show a strong Graham influence in her own movement via initiations by torso contractions and spirals through the back. Sokolow’s dances from the 1950s onward, however, feature pieces crafted from movement and gestures found in daily life, from running to grasping hands to slamming against a wall. Her work also presents quieter, vulnerable moments with arched backs and reaching arms, all while retaining the immediacy of movement coming from the “gut.”
Sokolow is known for making dances of social comment, and for reflecting humanity in the most inhumane of situations. Dreams (1961), an evening-length group work, contains vignettes of harrowing concentration camp scenes leading to a dignified and wrongful death, while In Memory Of…543246 (1973), a solo for Rena Schenfeld, is a portrait of a Holocaust victim. And the Disciples Departed (1967), a collaborative work with director Thomas J. Knott for American television, comments on the Vietnam war, racism in the U.S., and the rape of Kitty Genovese. Rooms (1955), Sokolow’s landmark piece that cemented her place as a canonical concert dance choreographer, exposes loneliness, urban alienation, and unrequited desire. The work is set against Kenyon Hopkins’ jazz score that alternates between driving adrenaline and stark atonal punctuations. Earlier, in the 1940s, Sokolow made dances with Jewish themes and about Biblical heroines to stand in solidarity with Jews worldwide during the Holocaust. The most well-known of these dances is Kaddish (1945), a memorial for Holocaust victims in which Sokolow defied contemporary gender conventions by laying tefillin around her arm. Sokolow kept her Jewish identity at the core of all of her work, and her time in Israel fed and reinforced this connection.
The exhibit at the Dance Library of Israel commemorates Sokolow’s career through photographs and other ephemera, and it runs through September 2010. The Dance Library of Israel is located at Beit Ariela, 25 Shaul Hamelech Boulevard in Tel Aviv. More information is on the Beit Ariela library’s blog.
For information about Sokolow Centennial celebrations outside of Israel, please visit:
Hannah Kosstrin is a Ph.D. Candidate in Dance Studies at The Ohio State University (OSU). Her dissertation project focuses on Anna Sokolow’s work from 1927-1961. It is supported by the OSU Melton Center for Jewish Studies, the P.E.O. International Sisterhood, and the OSU Department of Women’s Studies Coca-Cola Critical Difference for Women Graduate Studies Grant for Research on Women, Gender, and Gender Equity. She has performed, choreographed, and taught in Boston, MA and Columbus, OH, U.S.A.