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Nikolais Centenary exhibit opens at Alden

Exhibit displays multimedia aspects of artist, dance collection
Feb 24, 2010
By Lauren Bee

This year commemorates the 100th anniversary of American choreographer Alwin Nikolais? birth, and Ohio University is celebrating this renowned artist and his legacy with an exhibit in Alden Library. The items on display are part of the Alwin Nikolais and Murray Louis Dance Collection, an archive of multimedia sources that has been housed exclusively at the university since 1999.

The exhibit, A Centenary Celebration of Alwin Nikolais and his Dance Theater (1910 ? 2010), is on display on the fifth floor and in the Mahn Center for Archives and Special Collections in Alden. The exhibit includes photographs, posters, storyboards and various other items that portray the stunning multimedia aspects of the performances Nikolais created. The centenary exhibit was put together by Special Collections Librarian Judith Connick, who has served as the dance collection?s curator since it was bequeathed to the university by Murray Louis, a former colleague of Nikolais (1910 ? 1993) and a member of his company.

?What the exhibit allows viewers to see is a sample of the extent of materials in a special collection. You get to see a man through his life, and how his legacy has continued,? Connick said. ?I hope viewers walk away with an idea of his creative method.?

Nikolais was an innovator in modern dance, and created a ?total theatre? experience in his pieces using costumes, lighting, sound and stage sets to abstract dancers, and to create a more evocative experience for the audience. While some modern dance focuses on a narrative or psychodrama, Nikolais? work plays on the abstraction of the human form with the use of multimedia techniques, said Connick.

As further celebration of the centenary of his birth, Ohio University dance students will also be performing Nikolais? ?Noumenon? in the Winter Dance Concert.

?It?s wonderful that there will be a public exhibit and that it?s coordinating with our concert and the reconstruction that we?ve done,? said Tresa Randall, assistant professor in the School of Dance.  ?Because of the presence of the collection here and the connection we have to the Nikolais legacy, we wanted to make sure to mark the centennial.?

The complete Alwin Nikolais and Murray Louis Dance Collection includes 400 cubic feet of materials that are kept in the archives in Alden Library, including film, photographs, manuscripts, story boards, posters and music. In the fall, some of the collection will be traveling off the Athens campus to the Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts in New York City, as part of a series of events celebrating the late choreographer.  Claudia Gitelman, choreographer, teacher and Nikolais scholar, visited OHIO and the collection in December to coordinate the exhibit for the Lincoln Center, and will be returning again in May to complete the project.

Both Randall and Connick said that Louis wanted the collection to be at a university with an active dance program, where students could have access to and utilize the materials in their studies.  Students in ?Viewing 20th Century Dance? and ?History of Modern Dance? courses have collaborated with Connick while doing researching for their courses, using various media from the collection for their final papers.

While working on their projects, many students made use of the archive utilizing 240 pieces from the collection in their research.  Connick said that she had a lot of contact with the students during the process, including 73 individual visits to study the archived materials.

?It?s a topic that interests them. It?s a fun time for them. It?s a fun time for me,? she said.

The dance collection is not the only part of Nikolais? legacy at OHIO. Gladys Bailin-Stern, professor emeriti of dance, first worked with Nikolais as a student at the Henry Street Playhouse in New York City, and later became a member of both the Nikolais and Louis Dance Companies.

Regarding the collection, Bailin-Stern said, ?Since the Nikolais and Louis companies no longer exist, the library archive makes these wonderful works available to those interested in some of the most influential dance-makers of the 20th Century.?

The exhibit will be on display until the end of the summer. Materials are also available on the Nikolais and Louis Dance Collection?s Web site, including 16 different performances on video.


Published: Feb 24, 2010 5:09 PM


A Centenary Celebration of Alwin Nikolais and his Dance Theater (1910 ? 2010), is on display on the fifth floor and in the Mahn Center for Archives and Special Collections in Alden.

Winter Dance Concert

Dance students practice Alwin Nikolais' "Noumenon" for the Winter Dance Concert, March 5-6 at the Templeton Blackburn Memorial Auditorium.

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