Sharing the Legacy:

Honoring Alwin Nikolais on his Centennial Celebration

Sylvia and Danny Kaye Playhouse, Hunter College, New York City
April 15 & 16, 2011

A Review

This concert brought together nine college dance departments from across the country which have been reconstructing works by Nikolais. The dances presented spanned Nikolaisís creative life from 1955 to 1985. Although the program order did not follow a time line, I feel it useful to do so to detail the reach of Nikolaisís aesthetic.

1955: Tensile Involvement, presented by Desales University, uses elastic streamers to create motion and shape images which the motion of the dancers join.
1963: Imago: The City Curious (excerpts), presented by Southern Utah University. The first excerpt used a costume of extended arms ending in discs, which in themselves alters the motion of the dancers and the group shapes. The second excerpt used costumes of colored cloth bags which enveloped everything but feet and head. Here both the confinment of body as well as the nature of cloth dictates movement and shape.
1964: Water Studies (from Sanctum), presented by the University of Wisconsin–Milwaukee, uses a stretch-cloth circle surrounding the body from head to feet, which is used by the dancers to form varying shapes and grouping. In this production changing slide projections were used to enhance the movement of the evolving shapes as Nikolais used them in later performances of the work. In the original 1964 production the effects were made by standard theatrical instruments.
1974: Temple, presented by the Newcomb Dance Company, Tulane University. This dance is a quintet of duets largely confined to five stools on which the dancers sit, stand, lie, and use for support. The motion is largely dictated by the confinement to the supporting stools and the proximity of the partner.
1978: Gallery, presented by the North Carolina School of the Arts, is Nikolaisís ultimate black light ballet in which he extends the motion of dance to all manner of properties, from masks to wheels to skulls to exotic costuming.
1978: Aviary was presented by Hunter College and reconstructed by one of the originating dancers, Gerald Otte. As the title suggests, here Nikolais intended to translate the persona of birds to human action. (This dance has not been seen since its premiere performances, once in Madison, Wisconsin, where it was originated, and once at the Beacon Theater in New York City, both in 1978.)
1982: Pond, presented by Middle Tennessee State University. Here Nikolais again uses an outside agent, this time modified skate boards, to create the dance vision—motion moving on the surface of water.
1982: Mechanical Organ, presented by Marymount Manhattan College, New York City. This time the motion of the old-time hand-cranked viewing boxes inspired the vision for this ballet.
1985: Crucible, presented by Muhlenberg College. This is the ultimate mirror dance, using a horizontal mirror to reflect only chosen body parts (including the buttocks) in an almost totally abstract presentation of motion and shape.

All of this is chorography and performance was really gloriously Nikolais. However, the production lacked the Nikolais finesse from the use of some unlikely projections that were not Nikolaisís (or if they were, they were discards) to the ďlights on so that the stage is litĒ character of the mounting. I do know that limitations in lighting exist from stage to stage. But I also know that with even one lamp one can vary intensity, if nothing else, which could have helped maintain Nikolaisís vision of Total Theater.

—Ruth Grauert, April 22, 2011