Anna Sokolow's Players' Project

Reviewed by Lisa Jo Sagolla

Self-presented at Theatre of the Riverside Church, 91 Claremont Ave. at W. 121 St., NYC, Jan. 4-7.

The revered modern-dance choreographer Anna Sokolow died on March 29, 2000. In their first New York season since her death, Anna Sokolow's Players' Project presented an evening of her late-career, lesser-known works at Theatre of the Riverside Church.

Though the program offerings do not represent Sokolow's finest work, in each piece one could find evidence of the choreographer's signature ability to pack an abundance of meaning into an economy of movement. For instance, in the ensemble piece "Kurt Weill" (set to a suite of the composer's biting songs and chamber music), sadness utterly engulfs us as we watch the simple parting of three embracing couples. Slowly, the women open their arms—letting the men walk away—and what we see in their bodies, standing motionless with arms outstretched, are deep, dark wells of emptiness.

In "September Sonnet" (created for, and performed by, the troupe's artistic directors Jim May and Lorry May), pedestrian gestures of reaching and touching evoke powerful feelings of emotional bonding. The sense of connectedness established by the dancers is so potent that, when Ms. May leaves the stage and Mr. May is left to dance alone, we vividly sense her presence within his every move. An uncompromisingly expressionistic performer, Lorry May then returns and offers solo phrases of unadorned vocabulary which remind us that great dancing is less about what you do, and largely about how you do it.

The Players closed the evening with "From the Diaries of Franz Kafka," a darkly beautiful group piece that incorporates anguished spoken text written by the visionary Austrian author and exquisitely bare choreographic depictions of Kafka's sufferings amidst a stifling community. Costumed in funereal black, the ensemble forms striking backgrounds through eloquent use of pantomimic actions, insistent skittering, and passive poses of contemplation. The mood is doleful, yet hauntingly appealing. Playing Kafka's misery against romantically provoking music by Schumann, Schubert, Schönberg, Bloch, and Mahler seemed both to cushion and intensify the pain. With its keen amalgamation of theatrical elements, this work (choreographed in 1981), more so than the other two, recalls the pungency of vintage Sokolow.