For some time prior to beginning work on this piece, Sokolow had been having troubled dreams. She decided to explore them through dance, and the resulting composition was a wrenching exploration of the demons that can haunt our minds as we sleep. Only after the fact, however, did Sokolow realize what the piece was truly about. Finding herself staring at the concentration camp numbers on a man's arm, she realized that when her dreams began, she had been reading Andre Schwartz-Bart's The Last of the Just, a groundbreaking novel about the death camps. The novel had prompted the dreams, which had in turn prompted the dance. Dreams, then, was not only a terrifying allegory of hopelessness and despair and an abstract exploration of the internal terrors of nightmares, but also a very literal indictment of what had happened to the Jewish people during the Holocaust. As Clive Barnes, dance critic for the New York Times, commented, "This ballet is one of the most depressing, the most shattering and the most impressive of contemporary dance theater."
Notes: Larry Warren, Anna Sokolow: The Rebellious Spirit (Amsterdam: Harwood Academic Publishers, 1998), 143-144; Undated notes by Anna Sokolow in clippings files of the Jerome Robbins Dance Division of the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts; Clive Barnes, "Dance: Powerful 'Dreams': Anna Sokolow Work Shows Man, Unable to Communicate, Reduced to Fear," New York Times, November 2, 1965.