Stage Magician: The World of Choreographer Alwin Nikolais

Bruno Walter Auditorium, Lincoln Center, New York City
March 27, 2008

A Review

“Stage Magician: The World of Choreographer Alwin Nikolais” was the title of the presentation at the Bruno Walter Auditorium on March 27. Claudia Gitleman had arranged a good visual presentation of Nikolais’ works, opening with a live performance of Noumenon performed by soloist Peter Kyle. A showing of clips from some of Nik’s more exotic pieces followed, each of which Gitelman introduced with a discussion of its unique aesthetic. Randy Martin presented critical excerpts from the book The Returns of Alwin Nikolais, which he had co-edited with Gitelman, and finally a treatise presentation was given by international scholar Mark Franco.

There are games that critics like to play, words that are tossed, ideas thrown to the “great void,” visions revised like old seesaws pushed into motion. What was great about the evening was to see the participation of the audience in the exposition, who, for the most part were cogent.

But it was disappointing to find that all of this was focused on “what was.” There was little of “what is.” This was brought home to me by Barbara Palfy who asked me about the Noumenon costume. Today’s costume is of silver metallic stretch fabric, whereas the original was strongly colored wool jersey. Is change is bad? To my mind no, as long as the change makes good art. (Mozart made music. He is played in countless venues with a countless variety of interpretations. We don’t really ask how Mozart had played it. We take each rendition and evaluate it for its “now” self. If it is good music that pleases us, we like it. If it is muddled and dull, we don’t.) While Noumenon in jersey is deep mysterioso, Noumenon in silver is spectacular! No doubt about it! Every reconstruction is an interpretation. We must allow the reconstructor his vision (over the years Nikolais toyed with his works himself, seeking ever newer visions) and see it and evaluate it for what it is in itself— not wallow in what was.

What we have is a body of great works to be replayed by those who can look at the record and, out of their own aesthetic, make works of art.

—Ruth Grauert, March 27, 2008