The Hunter College Dance Program presents
Alwin Nikolais Legacy Forum
October 10–12, 2003


     During and since the Alwin Nikolais Legacy Forum at Hunter College, I have been struck by the incredible gift that was given to all of us who had the great fortune to have been touched by the genius of Alwin Nikolais.  His ability to take us with him on his journeys into the labyrinth and complexity of his thoughts about the creative process, “the unique gesture,” decentralization, immediacy, totality, Total Dance Theater, and of course, “time, shape, space and motion” were inspiring to the point of being almost incomprehensible.  And through the wondrous beauty of the works he created, the motion, sounds, lighting and costumes he designed, we all became awe-inspired. Change minds and lives he did.  He challenged us to give of the best in us. All of us are richer and somehow bound together because of the greatness and generosity of one single human being, Alwin Nikolais.   — Joan Woodbury

Photos by Chip Tilden The Early Company

Panel I — The Early Company

Murray Louis, Beverly Blossom, Gladys Bailin,
Claudia Gitelman (moderator), Phyllis Lamhut,
and Dorothy Vislocky

The Legacy

By Virginia Dillon

Legacy: a gift, a bequest as from an ancestor or predecessor

My participation in “The Nikolais Legacy Forum” mirrors my participation in the Nikolais Company — brief and intense.

Anticipation starts a roller coaster.  Can I lose ten pounds by Thursday?  (Don’t have to.  I can keep my clothes on.)  Can I whip myself into shape?  (Don’t have to.  Can sit, watch and listen.)  Wow!!  Sit and watch people dance with all my clothes on!  Now we’re talking.

Who will be there?  How will they look?  Who will be dancing?  Murray Louis, Phyllis Lamhut, Gladys Bailin, Beverly Blossom, and Ruth Grauert will all be there in person.  Yes!!!  Everything will be ALL RIGHT.  We’ll get to see dances by Beverly Blossom, Jeanette Stoner, Dudley Brooks, Steven Iannacone, Tandy Beal, and others who came before and after, multi-generational, involving grandparents and babies under 40 yrs. old.  (Leave it to Nikolais to attract an interesting crowd.)

I walked into the reception Friday night and surprised myself by immediately looking for the white hair and elegant profile of our beloved Nik.  (Oh, that’s right, he won’t be here.  It’s just that we’re all here because of him.)

The Next Generations

Panel II — The Next Generations

Standing: Gerald Otte, Jeanette Stoner, Joan Woodbury (moderator), and Lynn Levine; Seated: Trista Redavid, Alberto Del Saz, and Tandy Beal
But the folks who ARE in that room!  Luly Santangelo with flyers for her son’s company, La Noche Flamenca; Jeanette Stoner, who will be participating on a panel as well as dancing; Tom Caravaglia and Doris, who just returned from Venice; Claudia Melrose. who has come all the way from Wisconsin; Gerald Otte, who organized this event; Claudia Gitelman, who has a new book about Hanya coming out this month; Lynn Levine; Suzy Freidel; Alice Tierstein; Janice Brenner; Ruth Grauert and Jim Van Abbema, who give us “The Bearnstow Journal” Web site; Phyllis Lamhut and Robert Small; Joan Woodbury, whose company will be performing Nikolais works at the Joyce theatre this month; and Murray Louis.  Be still my heart!!

Of course, we all start talking at the same time.  It’s a veritable feast of fabulous people.  Inevitably some of us mature people remembered our aches and pains and thought to ask Phyllis if there would be an opportunity to address this topic on a panel.  Phyllis reminded us that this forum was about the Nikolais legacy — not about our aches and pains and jolted me right out of the realm of self concern and into the realm of purpose, an immediate and defining experience in Decentralization — take the focus off yourself and put it into what you are doing, why you are here.

So I walked into the forum the same way I walked in to the Playhouse — full of self — self-doubt and self-concern.  And almost exactly as it happened in 1963, Phyllis cut right through it . . . like pouring a bucket of cold water on a hysterical person, “Stop it, get hold of yourself and let go of yourself.”

Nikolais’ Artistry and Technical Theater

Panel III: Nikolais’ Artistry & Technical Theater

Standing: Gerald Otte (moderator), George Gracey,
Jim Van Abbema, and Ruth Grauert; Seated: John Tomlinson and Tom Caravaglia

The rest of the weekend seems to be a big love-in of wonderful people who were all really happy to see each other.  That was the way Nik taught.  We had learned to be open with each other and to be who we are, and come to think of it, I think Nik respected us before some of us had learned to respect ourselves.  He gave us ourselves.  He wasn’t a brand name and we couldn’t be identified as clones.  If you were a tall person you did dances about verticality; if you were a large person you did large dances celebrating BIG, and if you were mature you did dances that could never be done by any 20 year old.  Nikolais gave it away and its out there with a spiritual life of it’s own.

Throughout the weekend people tried to express their gratitude for having been brought to Nikolais, because the life of everyone there seems to had been touched in profound ways.  The word “family” came up a lot.  Lynn Needle spoke of Nik and Murray sharing their home and their food, and teaching us about living as artists, celebrating life with cooking, decorating, music, and art.  Gladys said that the experience of the whole weekend had been life affirming; Ruth said that the Nikolais legacy enriches everything that we do; and Phyllis, who led the last workshop of the weekend, decided to use bowling pins as props in the improvisation because “they would take the focus off the self.”  We walked out of there with the vision of people being beautiful because they had forgotten about themselves.  Thank you Nik and thank you all.

See snapshots of the Nikolais Legacy Forum.