Women of Valor


Choreographic Innovations

Anna Sokolow, 1910 - 2000

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Anna Sokolow's Players' Project performing "The Lovers" from Sokolow's "Magritte, Magritte"

In 1951, Sokolow staged and performed in a theater-dance production of S. Ansky's play, The Dybbuk. The dramatization represented one of Sokolow's first major attempts to combine dance with mime and the spoken word, a process that had long intrigued her. Following The Dybbuk, Sokolow largely ceased to perform in public, preferring to focus instead on choreography.

Two years later, Sokolow premiered Lyric Suite. Set to a complex, atonal score, the 1953 piece followed neither meter nor melodic line, but rather responded to the music's cumulative effect. Sokolow saw the composition as a personal artistic turning point, commenting that "[i]n working on Lyric Suite I feel as though I began to find...my vocabulary of movement." After viewing the piece, Sokolow's mentor Louis Horst told her, "Now, Anna, you are a choreographer!" It was the highest compliment he could have paid her.

Over the next decades, Sokolow continued to experiment with combinations of music, dance and theater. In such works as Act Without Words (1969), Magritte, Magritte (1970), and From the Diaries of Franz Kafka (1980), she freely mixed mime, acting, dance and music to create a unique and powerful art form. In 1969, she created a new company—called Lyric Theatre, like her short-lived Israeli group—devoted specifically to compositions of this type. As she said, "I prefer to work with people who can dance and act rather than dancers who act or actors who dance." A few years later, the group was reconstituted as The Players' Project. It is now known as the Sokolow Dance Foundation.

Sokolow's choice of music for her pieces was also highly innovative. Working with such composers as Teo Macero and Kenyon Hopkins, she was one of the first choreographers to set her compositions to serious, edgy jazz music. One of these works, Opus '65, became the prototype for countless later "rock ballets."

  1. Quotation beginning "[i]n working on Lyric Suite" from Interview with Anna Sokolow by Barbara Newman, December 1974-May 1975, for Oral History Project of the Jerome Robbins Dance Division, The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts, Dorothy and Lewis B. Cullman Center.
  2. Quotation "Now, Anna, you are a choreographer!" cited in Larry Warren, Anna Sokolow: The Rebellious Spirit (Amsterdam: Harwood Academic Publishers, 1998), 114.
  3. Quotation beginning "I prefer to work with people" cited in Aaron Cohen, "Anna Sokolow is...," undated New York Times clipping from the Jerome Robbins Dance Division of the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts.
  4. Remaining information from Warren, 97-98, 111-114, 177-185; Cohen; Interview with Anna Sokolow, 1974-1975.

How to cite this page

Jewish Women's Archive. "Women of Valor - Anna Sokolow - Choreographic Innovations." (Viewed on April 18, 2014) <http://jwa.org/womenofvalor/sokolow/choreographic-innovations>.