Although American choreographer Sokolow did not experience the Holocaust firsthand, her choreography addresses the pain, horror and fear of the time period in profoundly emotional and moving ways.
Dreams, choreographed in 1961, is considered a classic of American choreography. In order to have the rights to learn and perform the piece, the St. Olaf Dance Department applied for a $10,000 grant from the National Endowment for the Arts last spring. St. Olaf is proud to be one of 10 grant recipients nationwide. The Dance Department wanted to use the money towards a historical work and decided on Dreams.
Dreams was set on St. Olaf students and faculty by Lorry May, the current director of the Anna Sokolow Foundation. The Foundation's three-tiered mission is built around the principles of preservation, education and presentation of Sokolow's works. In this vein, May arrived on campus Friday night and worked with the dancers intensively throughout the week to teach and set Dreams.
May has a particularly strong connection to Dreams. She has performed every female part in the work. Because she has done each of our parts, she understands the movement, the pain and the work in each part, said performer Ariel Nereson 08 in a post-performance discussion.
The piece begins with a solo female figure staring boldly into space. As she runs and climbs her way over and around a quartet of steel-faced men, she receives no recognition. Their cold eyes and blank stares indicate that she means nothing to them. The pervasive indifference and fear of this first section sets the tone for the remainder of the piece. The work progresses as solo, duet and trio figures grace the stage in turn, each moving with a sense of loss. The choreography makes it clear that a force beyond the performers' control has robbed the characters of their free will.
Although the setting was informal, without wings or lighting, the performers took the performance very seriously, as evident by their engaged faces, bodies and movements.
May believes that the students need to perform Sokolow's work from the inside, out. Contemporary movement is often taught, learned, critiqued and performed externally, with an emphasis on how it looks. May encourages her dancers to do the opposite by discovering how the movement feels when fed emotionally from within. She believes the performers are just beginning to understand the utilization of this technique but have a way to go before they are emotionally ready for formal performance.
The emotional impact the performers had on the audience, however, was unquestionable. Janet Youngblood, an adult student from the art department, and her husband, Ed, saw the expressive emotions portrayed by the dancers as powerful and haunting. Another audience member agreed as she mused about the power of this piece once finished.
Dreams will be performed in its entirety as part of the Companydance Spring Concert on May 3, 4 and 5.