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Flash Letter, 10-10: Fallen Branches
Nik's Children

From Eric Dunlap
Copyright 2003 Eric Dunlap


There seems to be an awful lot of Nikolais talk going around this fall. With the Alwin Nikolais Legacy Forum at Hunter College this weekend and the Nikolais Foundation / Ririe-Woodbury Company presentation at the Joyce Theater, this should be a time to celebrate this pioneering genius and acknowledge the extensive family tree that branches from Nik.

Or is it?

Taking a glance at the Nikolais Legacy Forum flyer, there is a long list of people contributing performance, teaching, lectures and discussion. It looks to be a great celebration both of Nik's legacy and extensive but sometimes under-nourished family tree. Checking out the Joyce Theater's web site, it appears as though Nik's Company is back in business.

I went back and read your Buzz column regarding Nikolais Dance Theatre at the Joyce, and I feel you may have a point. When I think about it, the question that runs through my mind is "Where is Ririe-Woodbury?" It may be misleading to bill the company as NDT, but quite frankly that is the decision of the presenting organization and they are only trying to sell tickets. Where the travesty lies is by not stressing the historical connection between Ririe-Woodbury and Nikolais, and by not giving R-W the credit of 30 almost 40 years of its own development.

Is this the only way that R-W can get a Joyce gig? Using the company to restage Nik's works may a good choice because of the historical connection and pervasiveness of the technique, but since they are here in NYC wouldn't they want a little more cred?

Is this the only way Murray (Louis, Nikolais's partner) can sell tickets, reviving the name that hasn't been used in over a decade, and publishing a photo from an era when the company was already in decline? Why not use something more indicative of the work and less the persons, like a photo of "Crucible" where it is hard to even tell what body parts you are looking at and all you know is that it looks cool, or even a photo of the company in its prime, when Nik was still alive?

This is just a case of the family tree trunk sapping the life out of the branches and may be even more revealing to the true nature of the Nikolais Legacy. If there was any intent of expanding the family tree it is paramount that R-W receive the recognition it deserves for holding on to its company and continuing to preserve the technique --something Murray could not do.

I for one value my connection to Nik's legacy, but quite frankly in this city it does not get me far. No one seems to know who Nik is, was, or what he developed. (Note: When I was setting a piece on some kids in Montclair, everyone knew Graham, but no one knew Nik.) I am hoping the Legacy Forum will be a step towards more recognition for those in the family, to celebrate the past, to acknowledge the present and to develop the future.

Editor's Note: Eric Dunlap is the artistic director of Forward Motion Theater and a former member of the Murray Louis and Nikolais Dance Company.

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