Alwin Nikolais Celebrated At The Henry Street Playhouse and Joyce Theater, Begins 5/1

Alwin Nikolais Celebrated At The Henry Street Playhouse and Joyce Theater, Begins 5/1

The Centenary of Alwin Nikolais's birth is being celebrated in 10 cities world-wide with New York engagements at Nikolais's original artistic home, the Henry Street Playhouse (now the Abrons Arts Center), May 1 and 2, and at The Joyce Theater, May 4-9. The spectacular double season of revivals, some dating back to 1953, will be performed by the Ririe-Woodbury Dance Company, the repository of the Nikolais Dance Theatre repertory. The Company's performances of Nikolais's dances are directed by Alberto Del Saz and Murray Louis.

At the Abrons, the Ririe-Woodbury Company will present "Tensile Involvement" (1955) in which the dancers manipulate a horizontal Maypole of shimmering elastic bands creating cat's cradles and astonishing geometric shapes as

they wind and unwind their way through an ever-changing web of ribbon. Add to that two classics from 1953-"Noumenon" and "Kaleidoscope." In "Noumenon," a trio, the dancers' bodies are encased from head to toe in stretchable fabric, transforming them into creatures from outer space, blobs beneath a microscope, or surreal ghosts-take your pick. In "Kaleidoscope," another masterpiece of imagination, the dancers' movements turn the simple props into feats of magical wit. The Ririe-Woodbury dancers will perform five sections from "Imago" (1968), subtitled "The City Curious." In this dance that brims with visual surprise, the dance, performers and scenery are inseparable partners. "Tensile Involvement," "Noumenon," and "Kaleidoscope" all received their world premieres at the Henry Street Playhouse.

The Centennial continues at The Joyce Theater May 4-9, featuring yet another program affirming Nikolais's prophetic contribution to contemporary dance. Wild characters abound in "Liturgies" (1983): a sorcerer spinning in air surrounded by an undulating "sea," or an exotic bird-figures subsumed by a brilliant matrix. The dance suggests man bullied by fate. "Crucible" (1985)-another work whose dazzling magic belies Nikolais's philosophic belief that man is only a part of the universe. Suggesting themes of Evolution, the dancers' arms, legs, and torsos morph into changing images and unexpected shapes as they appear and disappear from sight. The company will also present "Tower" (1968), the third section from "Vaudeville of the Elements," which premiered in 1965.

A seven-minute biographical film that was presented when Nikolais received the Kennedy Center Honor in 1987 will precede each program at the Abrons Art Center and The Joyce Theater.

Alwin Nikolais was born in 1910 in Southington, Connecticut. He studied piano at an early age and began his performing career as an organist accompanying silent films. As a young artist he gained skills in scenic design, acting, puppetry and music composition. A performance by German dancer Mary Wigman inspired him to study dance.

He received his early dance training at Bennington College, where he studied with Hanya Holm, Martha Graham, Doris Humphrey, Charles Weidman, Louis Horst, and others. In 1940, in collaboration with Truda Kaschmann, his first modern dance teacher, Mr. Nikolais received a commission to create "Eight Column Line," his first ballet. The work was presented at one of the events of the Hartford social season that counted Salvador Dali and Leonide Massine as honorary patrons.

After teaching two years at his own studio and touring the US with dancers from Hanya Holm's company, Mr. Nikolais did active duty in the Army during World War II. He relocated to New York City following the war, where he resumed his studies with Miss Holm. Eventually he became Miss Holm's assistant, teaching at her New York school and at Colorado College during the summers. In 1948, Mr. Nikolais was appointed director of the Henry Street Playhouse where he formed The Playhouse Dance Company, later renamed the Nikolais Dance Theatre. At Henry Street, Mr. Nikolais began to develop his own world of abstract dance theatre, portraying man as part of a total environment, while redefining 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 forged his relationship with Murray Louis who was to become a driving force in the young Playhouse Company, Mr. Nikolais's leading dancer and longtime collaborator.

While developing his choreography, Mr. Nikolais's lifelong interest in music led him to create his own scores. He reinterpreted music as the art of sound, not as a form dictated by scales, rules of harmony, or meter. He experimented with everything from automobile parts to East Asian instruments, eventually manipulating the various sounds through tape recorders. A Guggenheim Fellowship allowed him to purchase the first electronic synthesizer from Robert Moog.

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 extraordinarily successful 1968 Paris season at the Theatre Des Champs-Elysees, Mr. Nikolais's impact on dance grew internationally. Following the Paris triumph, the Company Began performing in the world's greatest theaters. Here began a long artistic relationship with the Theatre de la Ville starting in 1971 and continuing now 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.

In 1987 he was awarded The United States' highest cultural honor, the National Medal of Arts, presented by President Reagan, and the Kennedy Center Honor, conferred during a three day round of official Washington events, which culminated in a CBS telecast featuring the Nikolais Dance Theater. He received the City of Paris' highest honor, the Grande Medaille de Vermeille de la Ville de Paris, as well as medals from Seville, Spain, Athens, Greece, and 30 other cities both foreign and national as well as a special citation from New York City's Mayor, which he shared with Murray Louis. Often affectionately referred to as the American Patriarch of French modern dance, Mr. Nikolais is a knight of France's Legion of Honor and a commander of the Order of Arts and Letters.

He was also the recipient of the Samuel H. Scripps American Dance Festival Award; the Capezio Award; Circulo Criticos Award, Chile; Emmy Citation Award; Dance Magazine Award; the Tiffany Award; and the American Dance Guild Award.

Mr. Nikolais received five honorary doctorate degrees, has twice been designated a Guggenheim Fellow, and was the recipient of a three-year creativity grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. Both he and his work have been featured in numerous films and television programs in the US and abroad. In 1987, "Nik and Murray," a documentary film by Christian Blackwood, aired on the PBS series, "American Masters."

Mr. Nikolais was also renowned as a master teacher, with his pedagogy taught in schools and universities throughout the world. He passed away May 8, 1993 and is buried in Père LaChaise Cemetery in Paris.


Directed by Alberto del Saz and Murray Louis

Performed by the Ririe-Woodbury Dance Company


May 1 & 2, 2010


IMAGO: The City Curious (1968)



All Choreography, Music, Costumes and Lighting by Alwin Nikolais
Performance Schedule:

Saturday, May 1st 8pm; Sunday, May 2nd 5pm
Ticket Information:
$15; $10 students and seniors; $100 patron seating

To purchase tickets: 212-352-3101 or

The Joyce Theater

May 4-9, 2010





All Choreography, Music, Costumes and Lighting by Alwin Nikolais
Performance Schedule:

Tuesday, May 4th & Wednesday, May 5th 7:30pm; Thursday, May 6th & Friday, May 7th 8pm;
Saturday, May 8th 2pm & 8pm; Sunday May 9th 2pm & 7:30pm

Dance Chat: Wednesday, May 5th following the performance

Ticket Information:

$49; $35; $19; $10 (prices subject to change)

To purchase tickets: JoyceCharge at 212-242-0800 or or

Box Office: 175 Eighth Avenue at 19th Street, Open: Mon-Sun, Noon-6pm