Alwin Nikolais: a Celebration Tour.
QUIRKY electronic sounds, phantasmagorical colors, and twittery, well-oiled unison moves are but a few signature elements in an Alwin Nikolais dance work. Oh, yes: There's also a bit of old-fashioned smoke and mirrors tattooed on the late master's style. Well, mirrors, anyway, as Nikolais, who died in 1993 at age 83, offered heavy doses of terpsichorean legerdemain in a career that spanned five decades, one in which the icon not only created choreography, but also sound scores, costumes, and lighting design.
Happily, his legacy lives on, notably through the Utah-based Ririe-Woodbury Dance Company (Shirley Ririe and Joan Woodbury studied with Nikolais in the early 1950s; see "Ririe-Woodbury Restages Nikolais Work," DANCE MAGAZINE, September 2003). As staged by former Nikolais dancer Alberto del Saz and the choreographer's longtime collaborator, Murray Louis, seven of Nikolais's seminal works, dating from 1955-1987, were on spectacular view at Cal State Los Angeles's Luckman Theatre as part of Ririe-Woodbury's tour to commemorate the ten-year anniversary of Nikolais's death.
The clever conjurer comes through in Crucible, Nikolais's 1985 opus, which makes use of the entire body, albeit through muscular isolations, of a lone digit, a long leg, or the upper torso. This work moves from the silly to the sublime in a heartbeat. Hiding ten dancers beneath low mirror panels, Nikolais's genius for abstraction shines: hands become puppet-creatures and, with the addition of riotously colored lights and slide projections, a shifting metamorphosis of shapes unfolds.
Nikolais's investigation of the abstract actually began in 1953, with Noumenon Mobilus, in which two men are wholly encased in stretchy fabric. Ably performed here by Juan Carlos Claudio and Brandin Scott Steffensen, the two create a world unto themselves, morphing from Gumby-like shapes to breathing pentacles.
Architectural shapes also dominate 1955's Tensile Involvement, with ten dancers manipulating colorful elastic strips in a joyful union of line, space, and the body in a kaleidoscopic cat's cradle. Who knew stretchy fabric could be so versatile?
Also key in "Lythic" (from 1956's Prism), four headdress-clad figures move in ritualistic unison. Whether up on their toes, skittering swiftly in small steps, or smoothly swiveling, this is liquid loveliness.
The darker Blank on Blank (1987) finds the company dressed in white and offering sociopsychological studies. Five couples, occasionally resembling an Edward Hopper painting, slouch and slump lethargically against one another before suddenly bursting with paroxysms of anger. But jauntiness rears its head in the form of one-armed cartwheels, all to the urban sounds of dripping water and jackhammers.
The finale from Liturgies, choreographed in 1983, has the company holding hands and doing plies while tripping the light fantastic. Indeed, more enchantment surfaced in Mechanical Organ, a suite of dances from 1980, in which the ten dancers offer solos, duets, and group interactions in sexy, flesh-colored leotards.
Nikolais, a techno-movement pioneer of yesteryear, is equally at home in the twenty-first century. With Ririe-Woodbury mounting his masterpieces, this American treasure is in good hands.
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Salt Lake City, Utah, April 22-24, 2004
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|Title Annotation:||Ririe-Woodbury Dance Company|
|Date:||Feb 1, 2004|
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