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The Nikolais/Louis Dance Technique:

A Philosophy and Method of Modern Dance

By Alwin Nikolais and Murray Louis

Rutledge, New York, NY, January 2005
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A Review

Book received! Of course, I couldn't put it down.  I had to scan (not read) the whole thing right away but occasionally, I must admit, stopped to read.

The organization of Nilolais' manuscript material is miraculous. Only those of us who Nik pressed into service (i.e., to read and fix) over the years can appreciate the size of that miracle.  Nik's voice has not been distorted, just made “legible.”  We are all in Murray's debt for doing this for us.

The volume gives us first biographies, followed by an introduction, then Nik's essays on “basic dance” with augmentation by Murray, and another Nik/Lou section called Creating—Improvisation and Composition, followed by The Class Manual.

There is a reproduction of Nik's Choroscript, depicting his movement analysis and how it may be notated. The detail and clarity of this page! Nik conceived this notation during WW II in France while he was surrounded by the confusion of horror and destruction. Perhaps its clarity was a solace and helped him keep his sanity.

The Class Manual opens with Murray's definition of classes, followed by a co-authored essay on The Body as an Instrument, Nik's essay on The Dimensional Concept, and finally Murray's piece on Alignment.

From here on I believe that the book's voice is that of Murray, who has organized Nik's teaching into a form that can be understood and utilized by others.

The next eighteen pages spell out “the stretch series,” illustrated by some eighty clear but tiny photos of Elizabeth Higgins. Then in true class format, after a brief discussion on the vertical, the book gives directions for all pliés and relevés, combined with turns and a stepping series.

Here we have a footnote on class clothing. Murray suggests that the post-modern baggie pants and flowing scarves not only make it difficult for the teacher to see whether or not the body is moving properly, but also are disrespectful of the profession.

At first I was disconcerted by having this body of creative work compressed into twenty-four weeks of classes. But upon reflection I concluded how else would one make a tangible presentation of the intellectual ideas expressed in the essays? Here is a good manual that creative teachers can use as a springboard. I trust that Murray does not presume that each step is the only way to go. That would preclude the instructor's creativity and contradict the Nikolais tradition.

That is the book—when you read it, each one of you will have a personal reflection, a footnote of import, a moment of inspiration.

In his own biography, Murray shortchanges himself a little. His pioneer work in the St. Louis schools was the pilot program for what became the NEA's “Artists in Schools.” One certainly must agree with the quote from Hanya Holm in the last paragraph. “Murray Louis is a dancer, choreographer, teacher, writer. All his parts are the sum of an enormous energy, which he spends generously in the service of the dance.”

The first sentence of the Introduction, “ . . . dance training is not a simple or singular event, but a lifelong investment in personal enrichment,” is central to many lives, certainly mine.

Nik's voice remains—even his excursions into, for want of a better word, metaphysics—all of which is clearly Nik. For instance, the section on Dynamics and Energies remains dense (not opaque but crystal deep) and takes many readings. I'm not sure that Murray's notes help me, but they may help you.

The class plans, which comprise the latter half of the book, are exactingly detailed. How Murray must have worked to make himself clear on each page! And how he must have sweated over the progression! It really is a masterpiece of its genre. A working teacher will find them a gold mine of ideas. For the working, creative teachers, I might suggest they read the material and use it as a jumping-off point to create their own class plans. Murray makes it clear that no one is going to teach exactly as Nik did, and that instructors should feel free to use the manual as they will.

Tapping into oneself for material and motion, for the construction of design, for the eventual statement, is Nikolais, and classes must reflect this creative tradition. So, “Go gently, but not timidly,” and teach wonder and motion and touch the universe of Earth and stars.

— Ruth E. Grauert, January 2005