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Ririe-Woodbury Dance Company brings Alwin Nikolais works to Joyce Theater, Feb. 9-14

by Ellen Jacobs
February 8, 2016
The Joyce Theater
175 Eighth Avenue (at the corner of 19th Street)
New York, NY 10011
Would there, could there have been a Pilobolus, MOMIX, Mummenschanz, Philippe Decoufflé, Jose Montalvo, if Alwin Nikolais hadn’t, in the 1950’s, dared to turn the human body into a work of abstract expressionism and transform the stage with projected light, slides and video into a playground of magical wit?

Welcome to 2016 via 1950 at The Joyce Theater, February 9-14, when a series of the late choreographer’s groundbreaking works—“Tensile Involvement,” “Gallery,” “Mechanical Organ III,” and “Crucible” command the stage courtesy of the Ririe-Woodbury Dance Company, the repository of “Nik’s” greatest hits. Alberto del Saz, director of the Nikolais/Louis Foundation for Dance, selected, staged and directed the season repertory.

With his hallucinogenic imagination as inspiration, Nikolais' daring reconsideration of light, space and movement, which predated digital art by decades, opened a new future for dance. Consider “Crucible:” A work of dazzling magic, the dance embodies Nikolais’s philosophical belief that man is only part of the universe. Ideas of evolution are also intimated. In one section, the dancers’ arms, legs and torsos morph into changing images and unexpected shapes, playing a poetic game of hide and seek as their bodies emerge and disappear from behind a shimmering, mirror-like surface.

In “Tensile Involvement,” Nikolais’s 1953 classic study of energy and space, the dancers manipulate a horizontal May pole of elastic bands to create an astonishing series of geometric shapes by tilting and shifting their bodies, winding and unwinding their way through the ever-changing web of colorful ribbons.

Rounding out the season are Nikolais’s 1978 “Gallery,” whose doomsday message in delivered through a complex series of startling images, a sharp contrast to the lyrical playfulness of “Mechanical Organ.”

Performance Schedule

WEDNESDAY, FEBRUARY 10 at 7:30pm; Curtain talk follows
SATURDAY, FEBRUARY 13 at 2pm & 8pm
SUNDAY, FEBRUARY 14 at 2pm & 7:30pm

Approximate running time is 1 hour 37 minutes including one intermission

General Ticket Information

Tickets, which range between $20 and $60, can be purchased through JoyceCharge at 212-242-0800, online at www.shop.joyce.org or at The Joyce Theater box office located at 175 8th Avenue at 19th Street. A limited number of $10 tickets can be purchased by calling 212-242-0800.

About the Artists

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. It was after attending a performance by the illustrious German dancer and choreographer Mary Wigman that he was inspired to study dance. He received his early dance training at Bennington College from the great figures of the modern dance world: Hanya Holm, Martha Graham, Doris Humphrey, Charles Weidman, Louis Horst, and others. In 1940, in collaboration with Truda Kaschmann, his first modern dance teacher, 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, and was well received.

After teaching two years at his own studio and touring the US with dancers from Hanya Holm’s company, Nikolais did active duty in the Army during World War II. Nikolais relocated to New York City following the war and resumed studying with Holm. Eventually he became Holm’s assistant, teaching at her New York school and at Colorado College during the summers. In 1948, Nikolais was appointed director of the Henry Street Playhouse, where he formed the Playhouse Dance Company, later renamed and known as the Nikolais Dance Theatre. 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. His unique choreographic works placed him in a realm previously untouched by other choreographers. 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 young Playhouse Company, Nikolais’s leading dancer and longtime collaborator.

While developing his choreography, 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 enslaved to scales, rules of harmony or meter. He experimented with everything from automobile parts to East Asian instruments to develop a sound library. Eventually he manipulated the various sounds by use of 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 extraordinary successful 1968 Paris season at the Théâtre Des Champs-Elysees, 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 Théâtre 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 Danse Contemporaine (CNDC) 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.

Nikolais has been lauded for his accomplishments and contributions many times over. In 1987 he was awarded our nation’s highest cultural honors, the National Medal of Arts, bestowed by President Reagan, and the Kennedy Center Honors, 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 Médaille 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, Nikolais is a Knight of France’s Legion of Honor and a Commandeur of the Order of Arts and Letters.

His accolades from the world of arts and letters included the Samuel H. Scripps American Dance Photo by Fred Hayes Festival Award; the Capezio Award; Circulo Criticos Award, Chile; Emmy Citation Award; Dance Magazine Award; the Tiffany Award; and the American Dance Guild Award.

Nikolais has been granted 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. Nikolais 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.”

Choreographer, composer, scenic and costume designer, Nikolais has blended his many talents into a single aesthetic force. In a career that has spanned five decades, he has left his imprint on every theatrical medium, from Broadway to television. Whenever there is something new, his hand is evident. His lighting wonders, his sound scores, his choreography, and his costumes have influenced the contemporary stage and a generation of choreographers. Nikolais is the creator of the internationally acclaimed Nikolais Dance Theater and the genius responsible for dozens of visual masterpieces.

AAs a uniquely original exponent of American contemporary dance he toured throughout Europe and subsequent tours to South America and the Far East. Nikolais was renowned as a master teacher, and his pedagogy is taught in schools and universities throughout the world. He passed away May 8, 1993 and is buried in Père Lachaisse cemetery in Paris.

ALBERTO DEL SAZ, born in Bilbao, Spain, is the Director of the Nikolais/Louis Foundation for Dance and assistant to Murray Louis. He has held various positions with the Nikolais/Louis Foundation for 32 years. Del Saz is currently the reconstruction director of the Nikolais/Louis repertory and has staged the repertory on university and professional dance companies around the world.

Del Saz, who studied ice-skating as a young child, became the 1980 Spanish National Champion in figure skating and soon made his debut with Holiday on Ice International. He began his dance training at the Nikolais/Louis Dance Lab, where he studied with Hanya Holm, Alwin Nikolais, Murray Louis, Claudia Gitelman, Tandy Beal, Beverly Blossom and others. He made his debut as a lead soloist with the Nikolais Dance Theater in 1985.

Del Saz performed at the Kennedy Center Honors in a CBS telecast featuring the Nikolais Dance Theatre as well as on a PBS American Masters series in “Nik and Murray”, an award winning documentary film by Christian Blackwood. He has also represented the United States State Department on a tour of India, appeared at the Palais Garnier in Paris in an Homage to Alwin Nikolais and at the Next Wave Festival with Bill T. Jones and Arnie Zane Dance Company.

In 1990 he appeared as a guest artist in “V,” a project by Ushio Amagatsu, artistic director of Sankai Juku. He has also performed at “Men Brazil” and was a soloist in works by Hanya Holm, Maureen Fleming, Sara Pearson, Cleo Parker Robinson and others.

Del Saz’s own work has been funded by NYSCA in collaboration with Ice Theater of New York. As a skater he has appeared on Ice-Wars, Grand Slam and the Professional World Championships televised on CBS, FOX and ABC networks as well as the official openings of Rockefeller and Bryant Park.

THE RIRIE-WOODBURY DANCE COMPANY was founded in Salt Lake City, UT in 1964 by Joan Woodbury and Shirley Ririe. In 2013, the Company appointed New York based dance-artist Daniel Charon as its artistic director. In addition to presenting three annual productions that include new works by Charon and avant-garde choreographers from around the world, the company is committed to preserving the work and legacy of Alwin Nikolais by performing his dances domestically and internationally. The partnership between the Nikolais/Louis Foundation and the Ririe-Woodbury Company began in 2003 and continues today. www.ririewoodbury.com


The Nikolais/Louis Foundation for Dance’s Joyce Theater Season was made possible by support from the following: The Harkness Foundation for Dance, The John and Marcia Price Family Foundation, Mary Jane O’Connor Ririe and Kirk Ririe, Sorenson Legacy Foundation, The National Endowment for the Arts, Donn Russell
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