Merging Past with Present: Dancefusion and Sokolow Theatre/Dance Ensemble

by Debra Danese for The Dance Journal

Dancefusion and Sokolow Theatre/ Dance Ensemble joined forces to present a program that took us back to a time when the movement was minimalistic and intention took precedence over grand, sweeping gestures. Both companies share a dedicated mission of reconstructing and presenting historical works. Sokolow Theatre/Dance Ensemble specifically recreates the works choreographed by Anna Sokolow (1910-2000), whereas, Dancefusion also aims to present new, innovative work. The mixed program, entitled Moving, showcased the companies performing both separately and together.

The program consisted of six pieces and opened with both companies performing Sokolow’s Moods (1975.) The choreography was well constructed and fully utilized the space. The dancers were often physically connected and created unexpected pictures and tableaus. The music, by Hungarian composer Gygory Ligeti, was often challenging to listen to with piercing tones throughout. Ligeti was known for a style devoid of conventional melodies and pitch. The dancers did a remarkable job interpreting the musical tones without there being a set rhythmic pattern to follow.

Two additional pieces by Sokolow were also presented in the program, As I Remember (1984) and The Unanswered Question (1971.) Sokolow’s choreography often used small movements that focused more on the intention and meaning behind it. Her work also heavily relied on acting from her performers. The dancers seemed to both understand and embrace this. I found the overall performance quality of the ensemble to be fully engaging throughout.  Kate Lombardi, who was prominently featured in several pieces, was especially enjoyable to watch as she seemed to be completely immersed in the work each time she was on stage. She was partnered with Janet Pilla Marini for the premiere of Jennifer D. Yackel’s The Space Where You Were. Both dancers performed with similar movement qualities but with an individual expression that drew in the audience.

A nice contrast from the other works was Diaries, choreographed by Omar-Frederick Pratt and performed by Dancefusion. This was one of the only dances that contained big, expansive movement. The stage was scattered with flower petals and the dancers performed in socks. The fact that the dancers weren’t slipping all over the stage was a feat in itself.  Pratt had the dancers “writing” in the air and on the floor to maintain the theme throughout. However, the use of blackout during the first half the piece seemed to unnecessarily stop the otherwise smooth flow of the transitions. Ensemble work was interspersed with some nice duo and trio variations. A strong sequence by the three males showed off solid technical skills and partnering. Lamar Rogers stood out with his combination of both control and artistry.

Following the program, I had the opportunity to speak with Gwendolyn Bye, Artistic Director and Founder of Dancefusion. Bye worked with Sokolow during the early part of her career. She spoke of how definitive Sokolow was about what she wanted and how relentlessly demanding she could be during rehearsals to achieve her vision. Talking with Bye was invaluable in better appreciating the work and contributions of Anna Sokolow.

About Debra Danese

Debra graduated with a degree in dance from the University of the Arts and also holds a B.A. in Arts Administration. She is accredited at the Master Level with the National Registry of Dance Educators. Debra has performed in Europe, Tokyo, Canada, and the Caribbean. She teaches and choreographs world-wide and has been an international guest artist in Switzerland, England, and Slovakia. Debra has been an Artist in Residence on five occasions in Norway where she showcased full length dance productions at the acclaimed Nordland Theatre. She has also presented an original dance production at the Elspe Festival in Germany. Debra has been featured in Dance, Dancer and Dance Teacher Magazines for her work in dance education. Additionally, she has been a contributing writer for Dance Studio Life Magazine since 2010.

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