Al Wunder Workshop
115 Wooster St, New York City
I first encountered Al in 1962 at the Playhouse. He was a robust, blond young man who had come to dance to strengthen his four-times broken leg. And he remained for eight years as a functioning part of the Nikolais school. I encountered him again in 2006 at the Salt Lake City Nikolais conclave. He was more robust, gray and bearded, and into the classes and improvisation sessions with a vengeance. And while there he presented a unique percussion instrument he himself had designed and constructed, which he called a “Hum Drum.” He was an unforgettable individual. So when I received his announcement regarding a workshop here in New York City, I had to take in as much as my time would afford. I wrote him and became his auditing guest.
While I was able to take only the first two hours of this two-day, eight-hour workshop, I saw a descendant of the Nikolais aesthetic alive and well. He had a mixed-bag class of some ten students, some college dance faculty, some professional, and one raw beginner, who participated as fully as the professors. He started with a very brief mention of the three conditions of motion—axial, rotary, and locomotive—and then asked the class to improvise, beginning with their fingers. It worked, and they worked, proceeding to full body engagement without prompting, then advancing to duets, and finally to quintets, during which he had one group observe (and later comment).
His approach was brief. He improvised some with the group and played on his Hum Drum. He considers the eyes to be the sense of entry, that they initiate motion. The basis for one of the improvs was various directions of looking (sideways, straight ahead, etc). He believes that the brain controls all motion. But I saw no “think-and-then-act” in any improvisation, including his own. I joined in once or twice (as did Al), but I was too engrossed in watching to stand up often. I enjoyed every moment I was there,
Al leaves NYC for Europe where he will conduct workshops in Belgium, Scotland, and England. If you can partake of one, you will find it, as I did, a brilliant refresher.
Ruth Grauert, April 20, 2008