The late choreographer Anna Sokolow was a master of minimalism, consistently taking the sparest and most ordinary of movements and wringing from them dances that are rich in drama and feeling.
The simple, accessible nature of the steps is what makes many of her works land like a punch to the gut: The pain and darkness that haunt these characters could befall any one of us.
This quality was evident in each of the Sokolow works performed Saturday by Dakshina/Daniel Phoenix Singh Dance Company at Dance Place. (A recent renovation has made it more pleasurable than ever to take in a show at the Northeast Washington theater: More comfortable seating and better air conditioning made it much easier to get lost in the production.)
The show opened with “Frida” (1997), which reflects on Frida Kahlo’s tumultuous life. Melissa Greco Liu delivered a finely nuanced performance as Kahlo: Her stoic posture conveyed the Mexican painter’s resolve, while her passive approach to movement befitted someone who was consumed by depression.
A duet between Liu and Singh depicts the troubled relationship between Kahlo and husband Diego Rivera. Singh frequently spins in place with an outstretched arm, and Liu repeatedly walks into the arm so that it hits her right in the throat. She doesn’t recoil when this happens — she just numbly keeps walking in a different direction. It’s a marvelously quiet way of letting us lament their mess of a relationship.
“Magritte Magritte” (1970) comprises seven short vignettes, each one bringing to life a different painting by surrealist artist René Magritte. For “The Lovers,” Helen Marie Carruthers and Singh tenderly embrace and skitter about the stage with the fizzy energy of honeymooners. But their faces are covered in white sheets, just like the characters in the painting, an unsettling image that somehow manages to strip even this warm romance of its humanity.
For “The Threatened Assassin,” Scott Parkinson was chilling as the sociopath who strangled his mistress. The Magritte painting is ambiguous about this character’s emotional state; the dance is not. The man’s cocky strut, his maniacal laugh and the way he casually hums along with the Victrola are downright sinister.
Singh has brought Sokolow’s work to Washington audiences several times in recent years. Here’s hoping he keeps doing it. These gems should continue to be performed, especially by dancers who approach them so faithfully and authentically.