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Murray Louis and Alwin Nikolais.

During Alwin Nikolais's long career, Murray Louis played the role of apprentice, teaching and performing alongside his mentor and companion, even as he headed his own company and made his own work. Since Nikolais's death in 1993, Louis has taken center stage, evident in the conjoined company's name and the mix of dance pieces during this New York City season: one Nikolais and two all-Louis programs.

Louis's motivations are perfectly comprehensible: what active choreographer would want to be entirely dedicated to enshrining another's work? But while Nikolais's pieces are still remarkable for their visual conceptualization and intricacy, Louis's dances are decently crafted but workmanlike affairs that occasionally verge on the arch, and often venture into the realms of cliche.

In the first all-Louis program, the 1996 Symphony, set to an electronic score by Nikolais (who liked to compose and design, as well as choreograph his works), opens with an undulating line of women, bodies in almost-touching sculptural curves. Joined by four men, all the dancers fall into piled groups, lifting upper and lower bodies to create the effect of wavy sea anemones. A slow movement for men has them moving in tight formation as a prelude to a fluid solo for Alberto del Saz, and a group finale sums up much of Louis's style: precise, nimble steps combined in skittering patterns.

In Index (to necessary neurosis ... ), from 1973, the dancers wear white body tights and skullcaps (by Frank Garcia) veined with colored thread, and appear to inhabit a vaguely dated sci-fi universe in which they crouch, twitch, and make faces to discordant, squeaky music by the Oregon Ensemble. Oddly, a new work, Tips, to music by Scott Killian and Dave Brubeck, also feels dated, as nine dancers play both waiters and customers in an atmosphere of mingled realism and fantasy reminiscent of Jerome Robbins's The Concert. But Louis doesn't pull off that work's brilliant dialogue between music and dance; the gags here seem forced, and yet another solo turn for del Saz (bare-chested, in a gold sarong) seems like overkill.

A slightly patchy Nikolais program was chiefly notable for the revival of Scenario, made in 1971 and not performed since. With dance an inextricable part of the design, the performers' bodies serve as blank slates for light projections that turn them into Mondrian geometries, skeletons, and whirling pinwheels. Nikolais achieves extraordinary effects as light breaks up the movement and appears to suspend gravity, and the narratives of fighting, voice effects, and crying that occur simultaneously make little impact on what is literally the bigger picture. Fascinated by the technologies of the theater, Nikolais left a deep imprint on late-twentieth-century dance -- an act that Louis seems unlikely (and perhaps doesn't aspire) to follow.
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Title Annotation:Joyce Theater, New York, New York
Author:Sulcas, Roslyn
Publication:Dance Magazine
Article Type:Dance Review
Date:Mar 1, 1998
Previous Article:River.
Next Article:Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater.

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