The New York Times
Saturday, November 11, 2000
By JENNIFER DUNNING
Anna Sokolow’s long and successful career as a modern-dance choreographer and teacher was driven in large part by her belief in the importance of craft and theater. And a program by her Players’ Project troupe on Wednesday night at the Theater of the Riverside Church suggested that the choreographer, who died this year, knew exactly whom to entrust her vision with.
Jim May and Lorry May, the company’s artistic directors, are long-time Sokolow dancers who worked closely with the choreographer, and so one expects the authority they bring to her demanding work. But the 10 other company members are just as authoritative. Young and old, they perform as adults who have lived lives of their own, a special pleasure in a profession that today seems fixated on generic stage presences, technique and explosive energy.
The three suites of dances on the program are all late works, as dark as any of Sokolow’s early classics but even richer dramatically. Her use of understated gestures and the clustering and separation of bodies expresses not only complex emotions but also whole historical eras. The men and women of her 1988 "Kurt Weill," which opened the program, had the dreary look of 1930′s workers in East Europe.
Stuart Smith’s astute costumes and the Weill score were part of the effect. But the decorously happy way the dancers stepped into formal tangos said much. And the dancers summoned up with almost unbearable immediacy the horrors of war in the "Soldier’s Wife" section. The cast (Lauren Naslund, Eleanor Bunker, Samantha Geracht, Stefanie Nelson, Benjamin Cortes, Luis Gabriel Zaragoza, Francisco Martinez and Richard Kilfoil) perfectly caught the dance’s delicate balance between bleakness and glowing hope.
Mr. May and Ms. May, eloquent dance partners and former husband and wife, suggested the power and economy of Sokolow’s gestures in a searing performance of the 1995 "September Sonnet." Choreographed for them, the duet is a revealing portrait of a complex relationship, set to music by Arvo Part, Rachmaninoff, Poulenc and Stravinsky.
"From the Diaries of Franz Kafka," a 1981 piece set to music by Schumann, Schubert, Schoenberg, Bloch and Mahler, offers a quick but thorough submersion in the spirit and letter of Kafka’s writing. Each of the six scenes, drawn from the writing and incorporating text from it, creates both a separate world and another facet of life as Kafka saw it. Mr. May, who has a beautifully modulated, trained voice, was as brilliant an actor as he was a dancer here, particularly in the subtle, closing "Metamorphosis" section.
Players’ Project, which also included Kent Gibson and Suellen Haig, will perform again Jan. 4 to 7 at the Theater of the Riverside Church, 91 Claremont Avenue, at 120th Street, Morningside Heights.