Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Dance integrates life: The Indian immigrant who is preserving Anna Sokolow's dance legacy

Since moderating the White Bird panel on American women choreographers last month, I've been more alert about noticing material connected to early modern dance. White Bird is bringing the Martha Graham Dance Company next week, an excellent opportunity to channel the expressionist heat of that generation of women choreographers -- Graham,  Humphrey, Dunham, Holm. And Anna Sokolow, who danced with Graham in the 1920s and went on to meld dance with radical politics during the Depression and beyond.

Sokolow's legacy is mostly in the hands of the co-artistic directors of her company, Players' Project, which disbanded in 2004. (Sokolow died in 2000 at the age of 90.) But an excellent story in the Washington Post by Sarah Kaufman tells us that another conservator of Sokolow's dances has arrived -- from an unlikely place.

Daniel Phoenix Singh is an Indian immigrant who grew up in a strict Christian household in Mumbai, moved to the U.S. for college and stumbled onto dance while fulfilling a physical education credit for his degree in computer science. Dance took hold, and Singh began a dance odyssey that led him back to Indian dance (which his parents had forbidden) and to Sokolow, whose Kaddish helped him grieve the death of his father.

Eventually, Singh started a company of his own, very distinctive, melding Indian and classical modern dance, and his passion for Sokolow has continued unabated. He's now determined to collect all 30 of Sokolow's surviving dances for his company to perform.

What I liked most about the story, aside from the unlikelihood of it all, is how dance helped Singh integrate various aspects of his upbringing, personality, interests and even sexuality to find the connecting thread that has led him forward.  This is one of the powers that the arts have, even for those of us who don't consider ourselves "artists" -- the ability to give us the clarity to connect the dots in our past and plot a coherent future from them.

Singh's company performs a version of Sokolow's Rooms (1955). The video is from Rooms Etude, which Lorry May adapted from Rooms in 1996 for CoDa.