Nikolais Dance Theater performed by the Ririe-Woodbury Dance Company

Reconstructed for the Company by Alberto del Saz

Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts, Philadelphia, Pensylvania, March 6, 7, and 8, 2008

Tensile Involvement

Top photo: Juan Carlos Claudio, Jo Blake, Snezana Adjanski, and Liberty Valentine perform in Tensile Involvement.
Bottom photo: Ai Fujii in Tent.

Photos: Tensile Involvement, Brent Herridge; Tent, Fred Hayes
It is always with great expectation that I look forward to any performance of the Nikolais works, and this program was no exception. Given my history with Nikolais and my endeavors to document his aesthetic I am a spectator with two hats. I am both a member of an audience and a researcher.

The program itself is multifaceted, representing differing aspects of Nikolais’s exploration of the art. The company seems most competent when performing those works that focus on motion. And Liturgies (1983) is for the most part just that, a regrouping of snippets from earlier works that Nikolais had culled and reworked to perfection. The company is delicious in driving tempo and non-figurative visions (Shadow), which are motion based.

Noumenon, which is the earliest piece on the program (1953) was immaculately performed, and spectacular in it staging, although I am sure Nikolais would have preferred a lighting that gives the figures a mysterioso.

Tensile Involvement (1955) was performed with that dancers’ lust for moving that is so inescapably delightful. One hardly notices that the elegant solos and the duet are performed with no connection to the vibrating environment. It is a great end to the evening.

It is Tent (1968) that requires a different performing mode, as much of the scenario was never truly choreographed. Most of the motion content was based on “acting” improvisation, the assumption of character in time/place, which enhances the visible score and gives it life. This brings to the fore several aspects of reconstruction. Of course, the postmodern dancer can assume the mantel of these differing modes. What seems not available to the reconstruction is the primary fact of “non-choreography,” and secondly that each scene requires the performer to assume a new mantel—from confident bravado to frightening exposure to deep mourning to elegant beauty to celebration. (Did I miss a segment?) As a secondary note I would suggest more variety in the lighting—a constant bright red sky says little.

—Ruth Grauert, March 10, 2008