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NYPL Celebrates the Career of Visionary Choreographer Alwin Nikolais in Brand New Exhibition
Labyrinth of the Rays (choreographed by Alwin Nikolais). Photograph by Fred Hayes of a revival performance by the Ririe-Woodbury Dance Company. Courtesy of the Nikolais Louis Foundation for Dance.

NEW YORK, NY.- The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts celebrates the centennial of legendary choreographer Alwin Nikolais in the multimedia exhibition Alwin Nikolais’ Total Theater of Motion. Curated by dance history scholar Claudia Gitelman, this exhibition brings to light the career of one of the most versatile, innovative and influential artists of the twentieth century. Alwin Nikolais’ Total Theater of Motion will be on display from October 21, 2010 to January 15, 2011 in the Vincent Astor Gallery at The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts at 40 Lincoln Center Plaza. Admission is free.

“Alwin Nikolais is an iconic figure in the world of dance,” said Jacqueline Z. Davis, Barbara G. and Lawrence A. Fleischman Executive Director for the Performing Arts. “His choreography revolutionized dance in the 20th Century and helped pave the way for future generations. The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts is honored to pay tribute to the life and career of this important artist with this exhibition.”

During the 1950’s, Alwin Nikolais startled the performing arts community with a non literal approach to choreography and staging that employed resources of the theater that had not been seen before. Nikolais celebrated a pure motional esthetic against previous modern dance emphasis on narrative and emotional characterization. His choreography treats treat subject on a mythic rather than personal level. He invited dancers to collaborate in the creative process, a practice that many choreographers used by the late 20th Century. Many of the dancers he mentored, among them Murray Louis, Phyllis Lamhut, Gladys Bailin, Beverly Schmidt, and Dorothy Vislocky became important choreographers and dance educators. Nikolais pioneered stage technologies that are now ubiquitous in theater and dance productions.

Nikolais’ choreography achieved national attention in 1956 with a performance of Kaleidoscope at the American Dance Festival. Other prominent dances he choreographed included Imago (1963), Guignol (1977), and Gallery (1978). His pioneering original choreography for television in the 1950’s brought experimental dance and music to a national audience. He made events for television now called video art. In his 50 year career, Nikolais created 118 stage works. His company interacted with multimedia environments of light, shadow, color, and electronic sound.

In the exhibition Alwin Nikolais’ Total Theater of Motion, gallery visitors are immersed in a theatrical world of color, sound, motion, and light. They experience amazing lighting effects Nikolais created, hear sound he composed, examine costumes he designed, and see videos of his stage dances and ground breaking works for television. On display for the first time are artifacts, documents, designs, and photographs from the archival collections of the Performing Arts Library that document Nikolais’ work in theater and music, as well as dance. The Jerome Robbins Dance Division holds the bulk of material, while Theater and Recorded Sound are also represented, as would be expected of an artist who considered all production resources to be integral and indispensable elements of his Total Theater of Motion.

Additional materials are on loan from Robert E. and Jean R. Mahn Center for Archives and Special Collections, at Ohio University. The Paris Opera, the National Center for Contemporary Dance in Angers, France, the American Dance Festival, and the Library of Musical Instruments at University of Michigan lent items as did private individuals. The Nikolais/Louis Foundation for Dance provided performance elements and cooperated in assembling the exhibition.

Alwin Nikolais | The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts | Jacqueline Z. Davis |

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