Alwin Nikolais Celebration at the Joyce
The Joyce Theatre
It is always with some trepidation that I attend a concert that presents the revived works of Nikolais as I was privy to their creation and served as stage director for their many presentations. However, I reveled in this production by the Ririe-Woodbury Dance Company. Niks Dance Theater is alive and well.
The program opened with Crucible (1985), a work commissioned by the American Dance Festival in Durham, N.C., a good opener. It presents a dance of mirrored body parts and ends with a naked parade. How better can one awaken the senses of an audience?
This was followed by the iconic Tensile Involvement (1955), which presents a three-dimentional moving design of elastic streamers with fast footwork and solos that reflect the shimmer of the streamers. This work is perhaps the best known of Nikolaiss works as it was presented in Washington, D.C. when Nikolais was a recipient of the 1987 Kennedy Center Honors.
Then came Mechanical Organ (1980), a tour de force of constant motion, presenting a series of corps dances, duets, and a solo. For most of his ballets Nikolais composed his own music, but for this dance he chose David Darling, a good choice, and I am sure Nik was pleased or he would have summarily replaced it. For the dancer Mechanical Organ is physically challenging, and this company stood up well under the constant pressure of the mechanical score and choreography.
After intermission came Gallery (1978), a full-length ballet based on the vision of a shooting gallery, consisting of group dances, interspersed with solos, duets and double duets. Over the years Nikolais composed several blacklight ballets. Perhaps this is his best, presenting, as it does, visions that would be impossible without it. How else could one present dislocated dancing sculls, and the piecemeal destruction of faces? Gallery has always presented some lighting difficulties, as did this production at the Joyce. This destruction of faces is the culminating statement of this ballet, and because of insufficient blacklight center stage, this culminating statement did not have the impact that Nikolais intended.
How minor this difficulty! This reproduction of some of Nikolais major works under the direction of Alberto del Saz deserves our accolades.
Ruth Grauert. February 6, 2016