Alwin Nikolais, a post for Lindsay Kemp.

 ‘Noumenon’ is performed by the Nikolais Dance Theater. It explores shapes in space but also shapes in unexpected planes.

 ‘Tensile Involvement’ performed by the Joffrey Ballet of Chicago.

It seems appropriate to follow the discussion of Japanese theatre / dance with dance which could have been influenced by the visual nature of the Japanese forms.

Alwin Nikolais (1910-1993) was an American choreographer who after attending a performance of Mary Wigman, was inspired to study modern dance. His teachers at Bennington College included Hanya Holm, Martha Graham, Doris Humphrey, Charles Weidman and Louis Horst. Nikolais did active duty in World War II. After the War he relocated to New York. There in 1948 Nikolais was appointed the director of The Henry Street Playhouse where he formed the Playhouse Dance Company, later named the Nikolais Dance Theater.

In 1893 Lillian Wald “settles in” on the Lower East Side to care for the poor. Wald’s philosophy established Henry Street Settlement as a national leader in service to children, families, and the poor. The Lower East Side was ‘home’ for a first generations of immigrants who arrived from Ellis Island (The statue of Liberty is located there, as was immigration control). The Henry Street Playhouse , which was part of the Henry Street Settlement project, allowed the children of immigrants an opportunity to study dance. My old friends, daughters of immigrants, Irene and Peggy Novey were just such two, and Peggy Novey was a member of the company in 1960.

It was at Henry Street that Nikolais began to develop his own world of abstract dance theatre, portraying man as part of a total environment. Nikolais redefined dance, as “the art of motion which, left on its own merits, becomes the message as well as the medium”. It was also at Henry Street Playhouse that Nikolais was joined by Murray Louis, who was to become a driving force in the Playhouse Company, Nikolais’ leading dancer and longtime collaborator.

In 1956, the Nikolais Dance Theater was invited to its first of many appearances at the American Dance Festival. With this, his total dance theatre had begun to take shape, and the company established itself in the forefront of American contemporary dance. With the company’s 1968 Paris season at the Théâtre des Champs-Élysées, Nikolais’ impact on dance grew internationally. Following Paris, the company began performing around the world. Here began a long artistic relationship with the Théâtre de la Ville which began in 1971 and continued after his death.

In 1978, the French National Ministry of Culture invited him to form the Centre Nationale de la Danse Contemporaine in Angers, France. In December 1980, he created his 99th choreographic work Schema, for the Paris Opera. At the same time, his choreography for an opera by Gian Carlo Menotti was being staged at the Vienna Staatsoper.

I took classes taught by members of the Company in 1960-61. The classes emphaslized isolation of movement and development of a strong sense of design through the awareness of negative space. The technique drew upon modern dance technique, but had a structural and impersonal quality. If there was an emotional tone, it came from the whole not the parts. The technique used parallel as much as turnout positions and moved through many planes. It was a difficult technique for someone who came from ballet. It used tension created by the body pulling in opposite directions. At times, the dancer did not move very much- in a sense, moving around one’s own body. In performance, there was experiementation with music, costumes and other visual effects, including lighting and film.There was a sense that costumes were not worn by dancers but were the dance.

At the same time as taking Nikolais classes, I had regular classes with Judith Dunn, who was very productive at the same time. She belonged to a group of independent dancers who performed at the Judson Memorial Church in Greenwich Village, Manhattan New York City between 1962 and 1964. It grew out of a dance composition class taught by Robert Dunn, a musician who had studied with John Cage. The artists involved were avant garde experimentalists who rejected the confines of Modern dance practice and theory, inventing as they did the precepts of Postmodern dance.

The first Judson concert took place on July 6, 1962, with works created by Steve Paxton, Fred Herko, David Gordon, Alex and Deborah Hay, Yvonne Rainer, Elaine Summers, William Davis, and Ruth Emerson.

Seminal dance artists, musicians and visual artists who were part of the Judson Dance Theater include: Trisha Brown, Jessica Cargill, Lucinda Childs, Philip Corner, Judith Dunn, Tony Holer, Meredith Monk, Aileen Passloff, Steve Paxton, Yvonne Rainer, Carolee Schneemann, Jen Scoble, Elaine Summers and James Warin.

‘Shadow Dance’ comes from ‘Liturgies’ and is performed by the Nikolais company:

The next dance is ‘Crucible’, an exploration of the fluidity of structure and shape performed by the Nikolais company.

‘Pond’ is performed by the NYU Tisch School of the Arts:

Alwin Nikolais Theater in ‘Lythic:

Finally,’Dime in the Slot’ from ‘Mechanical Organ’ by the company. Indeed, there is a mechanical qualitiy to the choreography. It is a spoof of the concept of dancing to the music:

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