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Limon rediscovers Rooms: restaging Sokolow's modern landmark.


Today, more than 50 years after its premiere, Anna Sokolow's Rooms remains relevant, profound, and disturbing. At its premiere in 1955, Louis Horst wrote in the Dance Observer that Rooms revealed "the psychological behavior arising from each individual's gnawing problem of aloneness in the contemporary world." In the 30-some years that I have shown the 1966 film of this work to dance history students, they have never failed to respond to its affecting depiction of alienation and despondency.

The Limon Dance Company's revival of the piece comes to the Luckman Fine Arts Complex in Los Angeles on Oct. 18, and to New York during their Joyce Theater season, Dec. 2-7. They have not performed Rooms since the late '80s. At a rehearsal in June at the Ailey studios, the Limon dancers were working with Jim May, who stages Sokolow's works, on the varied placements of chairs onstage. Of this aspect of the dance, Sokolow had said, "I thought of using chairs as if they were rooms, each dancer on his own chair, in his own room, isolated from all the others, though physically close to them."

The dance begins and ends with all dancers onstage on their chairs. In the solos, trios, and sextet, the audience is drawn in to the individual rooms for intimate glimpses of the characters' fears and fantasies. Kenyon Hopkins' jazz score, with its specific melodic and rhythmic progressions, provides a compelling aural environment for Sokolow's trapped individuals. Unlike Martha Graham, with whom Sokolow danced during the 1930s and whose dances depict biblical, mythological and literary figures, Sokolow's characters are everyday people, dressed in contemporary clothing. In 1955 Dance Magazine critic Doris Hering wrote about Rooms, "There was never the slightest shred of movement for its own sake. The proportions were everywhere just, the honesty of the gesture uncompromising."

Rehearsing the Limon dancers, May, who danced with Sokolow as well as with the Limon Company, explained the subtle differences in the performance of Sokolow's style. As the dancers reached their arms forward in the opening moves of a section entitled "Desire," their torsos lifted and fell with the breath as in the classic Limon style. Sokolow, he insisted, wanted the arms to pull the torso in twists alternating right and left, but without the rise and fall. When the dancers corrected themselves, the essence of Sokolow's intention asserted itself: terse, unsparing, and desperate. With the assistance of Lauren Naslund, one of the dancers from May's Sokolow Theatre Dance Ensemble, May coached the dancers so that Sokolow's exacting physicality appeared spontaneous and inevitable.

With this restaging, Limon artistic director Carla Maxwell has all the dancers learning all the parts, so that in rehearsal they switch off constantly.

Roxane D'Orleans Juste, artistic associate and lead Limon dancer, was with the company when Sokolow originally set the work for them. She remembers the choreographer as being very specific, direct, and demanding. D'Orleans Juste says that in this process May is responsive to each dancer's individuality, citing his "theatrical imagination" as well as his sense of humor.

Ruping Wang, who is learning Rooms for the first time, says that May leaves space for the dancers to find their own way into the material. Both dancers are clearly thrilled to be performing the piece. Wang adds, "We hope to have a lot of chances to perform it."

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Title Annotation:Limon Dance Company's revival of Anna Sokolow's Rooms
Author:Thom, Rose Anne
Publication:Dance Magazine
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Oct 1, 2008
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