“You can’t have dishonest words form a dishonest body; you can’t have honest movement form a dishonest body” – Ray Cook
This summer we read Dr. Kosstrin’s Honest Bodies. I loved it more than I thought I would! The ability to read about art activism and learn about a period of time that I have little no data on. Last weekend, Meghan and I were watching a movie about The Cold War and the information I learned through this research was able to be applied!
Here is my summary I did for Foundations of Dance Research.
“You can’t have honest words from a dishonest body; you can’t have honest movement from a dishonest body” is an aphorism Anna Sokolow centers at the heart of her revolutionary web of cultural and political mobility as a radical humanist and Jewish choreographer (Kosstrin 2017, ix). Author, Dr. Hannah Kosstrin, uses the title of her book, Honest Bodies, as a theme to portray how Sokolow’s choreographic work and her dancers functioned as a conduit towards social change to address communist discourse, as her Eastern European milieu was being forced to assimilate to a largely American Jewish ideology in the face of turbulent political instability.
Revolutionary Modernism was an anti-capitalist art movement, active in dismantling the hierarchy in the face of oppression, solely through the delivery and critique of its content (Kosstrin 2017, 17). Sokolow’s dances were embedded with revolutionary tropes as she aligned herself with the ideologies of the rising new socialist left in a time of post-war turbulence and heightened surveillance of the Reds. “Sokolow’s choreography did not engage what performance theorist Jill Dolan calls utopian performatives;” but took rather, a humanist approach to display the societal dregs in realist form (Kosstrin 2017, 230). By doing so, she said to her audiences, in my own words, “This is what is happening, what are you going to do about it.” In this sense, Sokolow used “gut-twisting imagery” and open ended statements to allow the audience “to make up their own minds;” to evoke or invest in the change she sought for society (Kosstrin 2017, 229-231). The radical social statements depicted in Honest Bodies through the vast display of cultural discourses, exist as a circulation of revolutionary residue for the contemporary bodies to come, allowing performers to better understand “their corporality in relation to another time” or context; displaying the use of activism in the face of political or humanitarian crisis (Kosstrin 2017, 230-233).
Diving deeper into the revolutionary tropes of Anna Sokolow’s work, Chapter Four “White Rooms, Red Scare,” specifically depicts the reoccurring theme of Jewish and cultural postwar assimilation, consequently forming the new anti-communist, universal American Patriotism we still minimally experience today. “To navigate, Sokolow did not change what she said, but how she said it” (Kosstrin 2017, 157). By doing so, Sokolow made sure to deflect Jewishness in order to avoid governmental surveillances and backlisting and changed her mode of production to also match that of the American universality, as defined by her work “Lyric Suite.” Lyric Suite is a multidisciplinary dance theatre work constructed in six non-narrative sections, as to demonstrate the universal aesthetic and “reinforce that the piece referenced nothing outside itself,” even though it always did (Kosstrin 2017, 166). This alone exhibits American Jewish postwar assimilation in the way she disowns Jewish social themes and so easily embodies humanism to represent this new “whiteness.” If we look closer at the movement content, “Lyric Suite” opens with two solos, choreographically structured to display a “struggle against undefined forces” (Kosstrin 2017, 167). This presentation of universality on a micro scale, depicts post-war assimilation within white suburbs as Jews “fought tensions between upholding Jewish traditions and blending into their surroundings” (Kosstrin 2017, 167). As we can see, Kosstrin’s honest bodies theme is still present even though Sokolow’s framework shifted from displaying specific Jewish social themes to a largely implied aesthetic in order to sustain and survive as an artist.
Broadly, Kosstrin has interwoven Honest Bodies with revolutionary residues to depict the historical acculturations that constructed this American “whiteness” that is still minimally present today. The revolutionary work of Anna Sokolow stands as a framework for how choreography and authenticity act as a conduit not only for social change and cultural mobility; but tandemly, the individual’s responsibility and relationship to the change being sought.
Photo: L.A. Cicero