Famed Choreographer Anna Sokolow Dead At 90

Works of modern American dance pioneer were often controversial.

Modern dancer Anna Sokolow, who performed with Martha Graham and later choreographed for Jerome Robbins, Leonard Bernstein and Kurt Weill, died on Wednesday from pneumonia. She was 90.

"Sokolow's dances ... will hopefully last a thousand years," Francis Mason said on WQXR's "The World of Dance" in 1995. "I venture to suggest that they will tell future generations more about our century than many a history."

Born in Hartford, Conn., in 1910 to Russian Jewish immigrants, Sokolow began her dance training with Graham and Louis Horst at the Neighborhood Playhouse on Manhattan's Lower East Side.

She was a member of Graham's dance company from 1930 to 1939, and soon after formed her own company for which she choreographed as well as performed solo concerts.

In 1939, Sokolow began a lifelong association with dance and theater arts in Mexico. Her work with the Mexican Ministry of Fine Arts culminated in the formation of the National Academy of Dance, the first modern dance company in the country.

Sokolow's choreography wasn't for everyone, as her dances often focused on deeply disturbing topics such as the plight of refugees, fascism and even Nazi concentration camps.

Dance critic Walter Terry once wrote that after seeing an evening of Sokolow's work you would want to go home and kill yourself.

Sokolow strongly defended her direct, often controversial commentaries of humanity and social justice. In a 1965 article for Dance Magazine, the choreographer wrote that there were no "final solutions to today's problems" but that she "could simply provoke an audience into awareness."

Since the 1950s, Sokolow had been a frequent guest artist in Israel, choreographing for major dance companies there and teaching generations of dancers. Sokolow was also involved in Broadway musical theater, choreographing dance steps for Leonard Bernstein's Candide, Kurt Weill's Street Scene and the original production of Hair.

In the late 1950s, Sokolow was the first modern dance choreographer to have her work presented on national television. Rooms, which is considered her masterpiece, was originally choreographed for actors in her movement class at the Actors Studio.

Anna Sokolow's Players' Project was founded in 1981. A New York-based dance company, the ensemble performs an annual season devoted to Sokolow's work.