Monday, February 27, 2012

Works and Collaborations

               Alwin Nikolais pioneered dance and multimedia for almost sixty years. Some of his best known works were “Masks, Props, and Mobiles” (1953), “Totem” (1960), and “Count Down” (1979). Nikolais liked to challenge his dancers by making them perform in and around elaborate props and costumes. “Nikolais viewed the dancer not as an artist of self-expression, but as a talent who could investigate the properties of physical space and movement.” (PBS American Masters Series, online)
Alwin Nikolais was teaching in Colorado in 1949 when he met Murray Louis, who greatly impressed Nikolais. Together, they began to work on the idea of “Decentralization” or “depersonalizing dancers through costume and design they could be liberated from their own forms.” (PBS American Masters Series, online) They began to make pieces that shifted the audience’s attentions away from one single dancer and forced them to focus on the entire production, including sound collage, projection and costume.
Upon returning to New York City, Murray Louis began to dance both with the Nikolais Dance Theater, as well as starting his own, The Murray Louis Dance Company. Unlike Nikolais, Louis both choreographed and performed in his works. The forty year relationship and collaboration between Nikolais and Louis allowed for “The Murray Louis Dance Company and the Nikolais Dance Theater [to create] a dialogue that pushed the boundaries of contemporary avant-garde dance.”  (PBS American Masters Series, online)
Both artists were fond of works that brought together two seemingly unrelated forms of entertainment. One such example is the 1978 performance of Nikolais’ a “Ceremony for Bird People” on a city street in France. For this performance, Nikolais combined acrobatics done from ropes hanging on trees coupled with a float that passed along the city street. The use of acrobats rather than trained modern dancers is also an example of how Nikolais strove to “decentralize” what it meant to be performing dance. 

A list of his works includes:

Tensile Involvement (1953) 
Noumenon (1953) 
Kaleidoscope (1953) 
Prism (1956) 
Totem (1959) 
Allegory (1959) 
Imago (1963) 
Vaudeville of the Elements (1965) 
Sanctum (1964) 
Somniloquy (1967) 
Triptych (1967) 
Tent (1968) 
Echo (1969)
Structures (1970) 
Scenario (1971) 
Grotto (1973) 
Tryad and Styx (1976) 
Gallery (1978) 
The Mechanical Organ (1980) 
Persons and Structures (1984) 
Video Games (for the 1984 Olympics) 
Contact (1985) 
Crucible (1985) 
Aurora (1992)

Chronology of Choreographic Works by Alwin Nikolais

Link to the video of Nikolais' “Sorcerer” created in 1960.


  1. I thought it was really neat how they integrated all of these other forms of entertainment such as the ropes connected into trees. Did you find any videos of the two companies doing work inspired by this idea?
    In addition, I like how two companies can come together due to their love of dance. Instead of a lot of studios, groups, and so on competing against each other instead of embracing the fact that they are dancing.

  2. Alwin Nikolais was modern dance’s pioneer of multimedia. He invented not only the choreography but also the electronic music, costumes, and lighting design for his works. Nikolais worked improvisationally, placing obstacles in the way of his dancers, to confuse the process of dance and create a new investigation of space and movement. He created “Sorcerer” in 1960 (revised in 1983), putting a dancer in a rope and harness surrounded by a movable circle of fabricthat served to distort the space and hide the aerial component until it was revealed later in the dance. Nikolais also choreographed “Ceremony for Bird People” in France. The piece took place on a city street and was performed by local gymnasts on ropes hanging from trees.
    There's a video of Alwin Nikolais "Sorcerer" Above