The mothers of modernity

Philly Fringe 2022: Dancefusion and the Sokolow Theatre/Dance Ensemble present Envisions

3 minute read
2 female dancers, in blue tops & satiny purple skirts, bend to the side. At right, a shirtless male dancer jumps straight up
Celebrating the mothers of modern invention: ‘Envisions’ ensemble members. (Photo via FringeArts.)

Last year, Gwendolyn Bye’s Dancefusion gave us a taste of the work of her mentor, modern dance giant Mary Anthony. This year, with Envisions, Bye joined with the Sokolow Theatre/Dance Ensemble to bring us two more mothers of modern invention: Pauline Koner and Anna Sokolow.

The well-integrated program alternated the companies rather than set them apart. Dancefusion opened with one of my favorite pieces of the night, Koner’s Concertino, reconstructed and directed by Evelyn Shepard. Kate Lombardi, in a pale blue overdress, led the courtly dance with Julia Spooner and Gabrielle Wright in flowing red over blue (designed by A. Christina Giannini and reconstructed by Linda Hayes). The piece echoed the Baroque of Unico Wilhelm van Wassenaer’s Concertini Armonica #3 in A Major, but with complex angled arm movement. It reminded me a bit of José Limón’s Moor’s Pavane—a completely different dance, but with the same deliberate pace and stretch of a leg (Konor was an early member of Limón’s company). The third movement took the Baroque to the folk, with five women dancing in joy.

Emotion under pressure

Excerpts from Sokolow’s Frida, by contrast, gave us an intimate exploration of the artist’s troubled relationship with Diego Rivera—the portrait of the two artists appeared on the back wall as the dancers moved in place: forward, back, in tight, hesitant steps. They moved apart and came together, but we saw Christine Dakin’s Frida strain against Rivera’s outthrust arms, blocking her at every turn. In another excerpt, she writhed on a Mexican printed rug and was uplifted by four women in varied dress, reflecting the Kahlo self-portraits that played on the wall, as if to say that she is her work and is raised up by it. Dakin seethed with emotion under pressure.

Janet Pilla Marini also gave an amazing performance in an excerpt from Koner’s The Farewell, a solo work created in honor of Doris Humphrey, another great woman of modern dance. Set to Gustav Mahler’s Song of the Earth, it revolved around a band stretched across the stage. Marini followed it like a road, then lifted it to create sharply angled shapes. The band seemed to drag her to the floor; she tangled it around her back and shoulders as if in a trap. Humphrey and Konor had known each other since the founding of Limón’s company and the solo was an emotional example of what the mothers of modernity do better than anyone—the powerful expression of deep grief.

Surreal and fun

Sokolow’s Magritte, Magritte was witty and surreal, referencing the artist in men’s business suits and in spoken word. A couple danced with their heads and faces covered, and a dancer stood unmoving while he recited random words from the paintings and bits of poetry by John White. What may have been an extended theatrical murder with random soft shoe dancing completed the piece.

Rachel Kantra Beal’s Forces in G: Ode to a Ball used the dance vocabulary of the moderns in a piece that felt more like Isadora than Martha. The dancers, in short, floaty white dresses, frolicked with small round balls. It was a bit of fun in an evening filled with emotion.

What, When, Where

Envisions. Choreography by Pauline Koner and Anna Sokolow. Dancefusion and Anne Sokolow Theatre/Dance. $35 ($25 with student ID). September 9 and 10, 2022, at the Performance Garage, 1515 Brandywine Street, Philadelphia. (215) 413-1318 or

Proof of Covid-19 vaccination is required to attend this event, and masks must be worn for the duration of the performance.


The Performance Garage is a wheelchair-accessible venue.

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