Anna Sokolow, 1961
February 9, 1910|
March 29, 2000 (aged 90)|
Manhattan, New York City
|Occupation||modern dancer and choreographer|
Anna Sokolow (February 9, 1910, Hartford, Connecticut – March 29, 2000, Manhattan, New York City) was an American dancer and choreographer. that worked internationally, creating political and theatrical pieces. She worked with major companies, including the Martha Graham Company and Batsheva Dance Company. Sokolow also formed her own group “Dance Unit” which became Players’ Project after its dispersal and her death.
She was also a co-founder of the Actors Studio.
Anna Sokolow was born on February 9, 1910 in Hartford, Connecticut. Her father, Samuel Sokolowski, immigrated to the U.S. around 1905 in pursuit of a job. Her mother, Sarah, came to the U.S. in 1907. Intending to reside in Hartford, Connecticut, Samuel and Sara eventually moved to New York City for better job prospects. Sarah started working in the garment industry when Samuel contracted Parkinson’s disease. A socialist, Sarah was heavily involved in the Garment Workers Union. Anna Sokolow was the third child of four born to Samuel and Sarah, preceded by Isadore and Rose, and succeeded by Gertie.
Sokolow began her dance training by taking classes at the Emanuel Sisterhood alongside her sister Rose. Her first teacher, Elsa Pohl, was influenced by the work of Isadora Duncan. Despite the objection of her family, Sokolow moved away from home and dropped out of school in favor of a dance career at age 15. While training, Sokolow supported herself by working in a factory. She began training under Bird Larson, Irene Lewisohn, Louis Horst, Martha Graham, and Blanche Talmud at the Neighborhood Playhouse at the Henry Street Settlement House in 1925 as a “Junior Player.” Talmud, Sokolow’s main teacher, had a background in Delsarte and Dalcroze eurhythmics. As a student at the Playhouse, Sokolow studied voice, dance and pantomime. She eventually received a full scholarship at the Playhouse, and participated in her first major performance in 1928 as a part of Bloch’s “Israel Symphony.”
Sokolow first performed with the Martha Graham Company in 1930. She danced with the company as a soloist for about 8 years. While performing with the Graham company, she assisted Louis Horst in his choreography classes. One of her notable performances with the company was in Massine’s “Rite of Spring” in 1930.
Sokolow’s first solo performances occurred between 1929 and 1932. She developed the Theatre Union Dance Group in 1933, which was renamed “Dance Unit” in 1935. In programs for “Dance Unit”, Anna Sokolow’s name wasn’t emphasized in order to bring more attention to the group as opposed to certain individuals. Despite this, the dancers were known as the "Sokolovas." In 1936, a full evening of her own work was presented at the Y.M.H.A. in New York City. Some of the works included in the program were Speaker (1935), Strange American Funeral (1935), Inquisition ‘36 (1936), and Four Little Salon Pieces (1936). In 1937, four men joined the Dance Unit for the first time, premiering in Excerpts from a War Poem (1937). With the addition men, she avoided dividing movement based on gender and instead presented all bodies as equals. Sokolow joined the New Dance League in 1937.
Beginning in the 1930s, she affiliated herself with the politicized "radical dance" movement, out of which developed her work Anti-War Trilogy (1933). During this time period, she performed and choreographed both solo and ensemble works, which tackled subject matter that included the exploitation of workers and growing troubles of Jews in Germany. Sokolow drew a lot of inspiration from the Union movement as she considered the unions her first audience. She often explored themes of Communism, socialism, and the working class through her dances, particularly in Strange American Funeral (1935) and Case No. -- (1937). Several works from this period, including Anti-War Trilogy, were set to music by the composer Alex North.
In the 1940s, Sokolow continued premiering works in various venues throughout New York City, such as The Bride (1946), a piece influenced by traditional elements from Orthodox Jewish wedding ceremonies. From 1955-1985, Sokolow regularly choreographed for the Juilliard Dance Ensemble at the Juilliard School. She created many notable pieces for the group including Primavera (1955) and Ballade (1965).
In 1953, Sokolow created Lyric Suite, one of her most well-received works. A collection of solos, duets, and ensemble work set to the music of Alban Berg, Lyric Suite was noteworthy for its lack of a narrative and its "suite form" design. The New Dance Group sponsored the first showing of Lyric Suite in March 1954. Sokolow considered this piece as the beginning of a new era in her choreography.
Another one of Sokolow's signature works was Rooms (1955), a piece that explored loneliness. The music - composed by Kenyon Hopkins - was originally a jazz score. Rooms was divided into six sections: Dream, Escape, Desire, Panic, Daydream, and The End? The piece featured eight dancers and eight chairs, with the intention that each dancer and chair portrayed a specific character in a secluded room. Rooms also garnered positive reviews, with many critics noting its powerful emotional impact.
From 1958-65, Sokolow created her Opus series. This series includes Opus '58 (1958), Opus Jazz 1958 (1958), Opus '60 (1960), Opus '62 (1962), Opus '63 (1963), and Opus '65 (1965). The set of six pieces, along with Session for Six (1958) and Session for Eight (1959) used similar movement vocabularies and content with slight variations in each. Labanotation scores show the similarities found, including, used of strong accents and the dropping of the body and its parts to the floor.
In the later 1960s, Sokolow used jazz style to protest the war occurring in Vietnam and to give voice to the countercultures of America. Time+ (1966) was a war protest dance with multiple parts. In the piece she used clear imagery of soldiers and their experiences of war. The piece ended with soldiers that appear to be wounded and struggling with one another to stand, showing the great hardships that come from war.
Sokolow began her association with Broadway in 1947, choreographing for the musical Street Scene. She choreographed for multiple Broadway productions, including Happy as Larry (1950) and Camino Real (1953).
She was set to work on Hair (1967) but an emergency surgery kept her from being fully involved in the process. Consequently, she dropped out of the production. When asked to rejoin, she denied the opportunity as she objected the use of nudity in the production.
Though based in New York City, Sokolow was known for her work abroad as well. In 1939, she traveled to Mexico with her company to perform at the Bellas Artes (School of Fine Arts) in Mexico City, where they received positive reviews. This success lead to the formation of the group, La Paloma Azul. Sokolow created four works for this company El Renacuajo Paseador (1940). After her dancers left to return to New York City, Sokolow chose to stay behind to continue working at the request of the Ministry of Public Education. La Paloma Azul dissolved in 1940 due to the emergence of a competitor dance group. She eventually returned to New York City in the early 1940s but continued to visit Mexico City occasionally throughout her career.
Jerome Robbins encouraged Sokolow to go to Israel to work with the Inbal Dancers in 1953. Sokolow’s visits to Israel began in the 1950s and concluded in the 1980s. Her first program to premiere in Israel featured The Treasure (1962), The Soldier’s Tale (1954), and Dreams (1961). In 1962, she helped established Israel's Lyric Theatre. The company was short-lived as they disbanded in 1964. Sokolow returned to Israel as a guest choreographer for Batsheva Dance Company in 1972.
One of Anna Sokolow’s earliest teaching experiences occurred during a trip to Russia in the early 1930s. While there with her then-lover and musical collaborator, Alex North, she taught classes in the Graham technique. In 1955, Sokolow taught her first classes at Juilliard. She officially joined the faculty in 1958 and taught classes in "method dancing" from 1958-93. Sokolow also worked alongside Robert Lewis as a teacher at the Repertory Theater at Lincoln Center and the HB Studio. Additionally, she taught choreography classes at the Hebrew Arts School later in her career.
The Actors Studio
In 1947, Sokolow's close friend Elia Kazan convinced her to become a founding member of The Actors Studio. Sokolow taught movement for actors. The classes were rooted in the Graham technique and also incorporated floor work and ballet barre elements. Her piece Rooms (1955) emerged as a response to her experiences working with groups of aspiring actors. Sokolow eventually set a small-scale production - Elmer and Lilly - on her students. She left The Actors Studio in the mid-1950s.
Since the dispersal of Sokolow's company—Players' Project—in 2004, its former co-artistic directors have formed separate institutions to maintain Sokolow's Legacy. The Sokolow Theatre Dance Ensemble performs Sokolow's repertory plus contemporary choreographies under the direction of Jim May. The Player’s Project continues to revive Sokolow’s work today.
Sokolow Now!, the archival dance company of the Sokolow Dance Foundation, performs Sokolow's repertory exclusively under the direction of Lorry May. The foundation also offers unique educational programs and actively licenses and reconstructs Sokolow's works. Many of Sokolow's works were filmed and are held at the New York Public Library in its Dance Division.
- Histrionics (1933)
- Speaker (1935)
- Strange American Funeral (1935)
- Inquisition ‘36 (1936)
- Four Little Salon Pieces (1936)
- Case No.-- (1937)
- Excerpts From a War Poem (F.T. Marinetti) (1937)
- Slaughter of the Innocents (1937)
- “Filibuster” from The Bourbons Got the Blues (1938)
- Dance of All Nations, Lenin Memorial Meeting (1938)
- Sing for Your Supper (1939)
- The Exile (A Dance Poem) (1939)
- Don Lindo de Almería (1940)
- El Renacuajo Paseador (1940)
- Lament for the Death of a Bullfighter (1941)
- Kaddish (1945)
- The Bride (1946)
- Mexican Retablo (1946)
- Lyric Suite (1953)
- Rooms (1955)
- Bullfight (1955)
- Sesion for Six (1958)
- Opus ‘58 (1958)
- Opus Jazz 1958 (1958)
- Opus ‘60 (1960)
- Dreams (1961)
- Opus ‘62 (1962)
- Opus ‘63 (1963)
- Forms (1964)
- Odes (1964)
- Opus ‘65 (1965)
- Time+ (1966)
- Hair: The American Tribal Love-Rock Musical (1967)
- Los Conversos [The Converts] (1981)
Work for Broadway
- Noah (1935) - play with music by Louis Horst - co-choreographer
- Sing for Your Supper (1939) - revue - co-choreographer
- Street Scene (1947) - musical - choreographer
- The Great Campaign (1947) - play - choreographer
- Sleepy Hollow (1948) - musical - choreographer
- Regina (1949) - opera - choreographer
- Happy as Larry (1950) - musical - choreographer
- Camino Real (1953) - play - directing assistant
- Red Roses for Me (1955) - play - choreographer - Tony Nomination for Best Choreography
- Candide (1956) - operetta - choreographer
- Copper and Brass (1957) - musical - choreographer
- Clothes for a Summer Hotel (1980) - dance consultant
Nicknamed modern dance's "rebellious spirit", Sokolow was known for her strict and intense nature in rehearsals. She won a variety of awards including the Samuel Scripps Award (1991), Aztec Eagle Honor (1988), an Honorary Doctor of Fine Arts from Boston Conservatory (1988), and an Honorary Doctor of Humanities from the Ohio State University (1978). In 1967, she received a prestigious grant from the National Council on the Arts, worth $10,000; Sokolow used this funding to create Deserts (1967). She was also inducted into the National Museum of Dance's Mr. & Mrs. Cornelius Vanderbilt Whitney Hall of Fame in 1998, and the American Academy of Arts and Letters in 1993. Sokolow dedicated her works to her inspirations including Isadora Duncan, Louis Horst, Anne Frank, José Limón, Vaslav Nijinsky, Martin Luther King Jr., and her parents. Her choreography has been performed by many prominent dance companies including Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, Batsheva, Boston Ballet, and Nederlands Dans Theater.
Sokolow was also known for her heavy involvement in the Communist movement. In New York’s 1936 election, she registered as a Communist. In the 1940s, she was also a featured performer in many Communist rallies. However, by the 1950s, Sokolow she no longer aligned herself with the Communist party. When questioned by the FBI, she cited her participation at rallies was motivated by earning money for her performance.
Sokolow was romantically involved with Alex North, her musical collaborator, for seven years. Despite the resolution of their relationship, they continued to work together throughout their careers. She had no children.
Sokolow suffered from depression in the late 1960s-early 1970s.
Sokolow passed away at the age of 90, on March 29, 2000 in New York City.
- Larry Warren, Anna Sokolow: The Rebellious Spirit (London and New York: Routledge, 1998), pg. 8; ISBN 90-5702-184-6
- "Anna Sokolow". International Encyclopedia of Dance. doi:10.1093/acref/9780195173697.001.0001/acref-9780195173697-e-1629.
- Kosstrin, Hannah (2017). Honest Bodies: Revolutionary Modernism in the Dances of Anna Sokolow. Oxford University Press. ISBN 9780199396931.
- Anna Sokolow: Radical Dance Archived October 13, 2007, at the Wayback Machine.; accessed February 9, 2018.
- Sanya Shoilevska Henderson, Alex North, Film Composer (Jefferson, NC: McFarland Press, 2003), pg. 226; ISBN 0-7864-1470-7
- Rottenberg, Henia (2013-01). "Anna Sokolow: A Seminal Force in the Development of Theatrical Dance in Israel". Dance Chronicle. 36 (1): 36–58. doi:10.1080/01472526.2013.757461. ISSN 0147-2526. Check date values in:
- Andrea Olmstead, Juilliard: A History (Urbana, IL: University of Illinois Press, 1999), pp. 202-03; ISBN 0-252-07106-9.
- "Sokolow Theatre Dance Ensemble - Continuing the Legacy of Anna Sokolow". Sokolowtheaterdance.org. Retrieved 1 September 2017.
- "Sokolow Dance Foundation". Sokolow Dance Foundation. Retrieved 1 September 2017.
- "Anna Sokolow | Jewish Women's Archive". jwa.org. Retrieved 2018-04-26.
- "National Museum of Dance & Hall of Fame". Dancemuseum.org. Retrieved September 1, 2017.
- "Performing Arts: Year In Review 1998 - Dance". Britannica.com. Retrieved September 1, 2017.
- Kosstrin, Hannah (2013-02-11). "Inevitable Designs: Embodied Ideology in Anna Sokolow's Proletarian Dances". Dance Research Journal. 45 (02): 5–23. doi:10.1017/s0149767712000307. ISSN 0149-7677.
- Sokolow Theatre/Dance Ensemble
- Sokolow Dance Foundation
- Women of Valor exhibit on Anna Sokolow at the Jewish Women's Archive
- Anna Sokolow at the Internet Broadway Database
- Obituary from Dance Magazine.
- Celebration in Pictures: Anna Sokolow Centennial at the Dance Library of Israel - reflections of Sokolow’s influence on dance in Israel (by Hannah Kosstrin, Dance researcher)