Nikolais, Alwin

Nikolais, Alwin
born Nov. 25, 1910, Southington, Conn., U.S.
died May 8, 1993, New York, N.Y.

U.S. dancer, choreographer, composer, and designer.

He studied modern dance with various teachers, including Hanya Holm, whose assistant he later became. In 1948 he became director of the Henry Street Playhouse in New York City, and in 1951 he formed the Nikolais Dance Theater to present his productions of integrated motion, sound, shape, and colour. Nikolais directed the Center for Contemporary Dance in Angers, Fr. (1979–81). In 1989 his company merged with another to form the Nikolais and Murray Louis Dance Company.

Alwin Nikolais.

Martha Swope

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▪ 1994

      U.S. choreographer, designer, and composer (b. Nov. 25, 1912, Southington, Conn.—d. May 8, 1993, New York, N.Y.), created works that combined motion with shapes, colours, and sound. He was known for high-tech multimedia dance spectacles that used slide projections, light playing on the performers' bodies, unusual fabrics and costumes, abstract props, and original, often electronic, music. Nikolais played piano for silent films in the late 1920s and then worked as a puppeteer before studying dance with protégés, including Hanya Holm, of the German dancer Mary Wigman. He began teaching and choreographing in the late 1930s. In 1948 Nikolais joined the Henry Street Settlement Playhouse in New York City, and what became his dance company grew out of activities there. His first major work, Masks, Props, and Mobiles (1953), featured dancers in stretch fabrics. Among later works were Kaleidoscope (1956), Allegory (1959), and Imago (1963). Beginning in the 1960s his company toured the U.S. and Europe and, later, other parts of the world. His work was especially popular in France, where he was artistic director of the Centre Nationale de Danse Contemporaine, in Angers, from 1979 to 1981. He received the Kennedy Center Honors and the National Medal of Arts, and the French republic made him a knight of the Legion of Honour. In 1989 his company merged with the group of longtime partner Murray Louis to form Nikolais and Murray Louis Dance. A retrospective of his work opened in New York in July 1993.

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▪ American dancer and choreographer
born , November 25, 1910/1912?, Southington, Connecticut, U.S.
died May 8, 1993, New York, N.Y.
 American choreographer, composer, and designer whose abstract dances combine motion with various technical effects and a complete freedom from technique and established patterns.

      Initially a silent-film accompanist and puppeteer, Nikolais began his study of dance in about 1935 with Truda Kaschmann, a former student of modern dancer Mary Wigman (Wigman, Mary), to understand Wigman's use of percussion accompaniment. In 1937 he founded a dance school and company in Hartford, Connecticut, and was director of the dance department of Hartt School of Music (now part of the University of Hartford) from 1940 to 1942 and from 1946 to 1949. After serving in World War II, Nikolais resumed dance studies with Hanya Holm (Holm, Hanya) and became her assistant. In 1948 he joined the Henry Street Settlement in New York City and founded its school of modern dance; the following year he became artistic director of its playhouse.

      The Nikolais Dance Theater (originally called the Playhouse Dance Company) was formed in 1951. In 1953 the company presented Nikolais's first major work, Masks, Props, and Mobiles, in which the dancers were wrapped in stretch fabric to create unusual, fanciful shapes.

      In later works—such as Kaleidoscope (1956), Allegory (1959), Totem (1960), and Imago (1963)—Nikolais continued experiments in what he called the basic art of the theatre—an integration of motion, sound, shape, and colour, each given relatively equal emphasis. His later works include Tent (1968), Scenario (1971), Guignol (1977), Count Down (1979), and Talisman (1981). Nikolais frequently composed electronic scores for these productions.

      Although Nikolais's choreography was sometimes criticized as “dehumanizing,” he maintained instead that it was liberating. He asserted that, in depersonalizing his dancers, they were relieved of their own forms and, hence, allowed to identify with whatever they portrayed. Nikolais was also noted for advancing the related concept of “decentralization,” in which the focal point could be anywhere on the dancer's body or even outside the body. This was a departure from the traditional opinion that the “centre” of focus was the solar plexus. These theories were developed under Hanya Holm and were displayed in such works as Aviary, A Ceremony for Bird People (1978).

      During the 1970s the Nikolais group toured widely abroad. In 1978 the French Ministry of Culture, together with the French city of Angers, subsidized the new National Centre of Contemporary Dance at Angers, a Nikolais school and company that made its debut in Angers, France, in November 1979. Nikolais made films of his works, as well as broadcasts on American and British television.

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Universalium. 2010.

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  • Nikolais —   [nɪkə lɑːɪz], Alwin, amerikanischer Choreograph, * Southington (Connecticut) 25. 11. 1912, ✝ New York 9. 5. 1993; war u. a. Direktor des Nationalzentrums für zeitgenössischen Tanz in Angers (bis 1981); entwickelte »Sound and vision pieces« als… …   Universal-Lexikon

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