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Erick Hawkins-Alwin Nikolais-Anna Sokolow

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I'm probably the only one who cares but I thought I would start a topic for Erick Hawkins, Alwin Nikolais and Anna Sokolow, as 2010 is the centenary for each.

Alastair Macaulay discusses Nikolais:



Gia Kourlas reviews Hawkins:


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Macaulay writes:

I have seen no Nikolais choreography onstage since the 1970s; many younger dancegoers will have missed viewing any of it. But Nikolais was sensationally popular for many years, abroad as well as here, and he was one of the best-known dance makers who led the post-World War II movement against representationalism in dance.
I have strong and positive -- but not visually precise -- memories of the Nikolais company performing in New York during the 60s and 70s, and I know that they toured extensively abroad.

I don't know what Macaulay means when he says that Nikolais "led the ... movement against representationalism in dance." I recall amazing visual spectacle in Nikolais's work -- lots of color, great lighting effects, witty costumes, clever props, interesting musical choices, sound effects, human situations clearly depicted. Wonderful dancers, but often not "dancing" in any conventional sense. I just wish I could remember to what extent, and in what ways, the dancers -- a very talented group, as I recall -- actually "danced."

It occurs to me that I seem to be describing some sort of early prototype of Robert Lepage or Cirque du Soleil, which is not at all what Nikolais did. But what DID he do? Can the dance elements be separated from the visual spectable? I'd be very interested in hearing from those who can say more about Nikolais as a choreographer per se and how he fits into the company of Hawkins, Sokolow, and the others of his generation.

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I saw the Ririe-Woodbury give a performance of four Nikolais pieces almost three years ago.

My take on it then was that the costumes/lighting/props/general "scenicness" of Nikolais' brand of theater was impressive. However, the music he used was repetitive and unpleasant and the actual dance content was thin and unmemorable. I think the mistake Nikolais made was in trying to do everything himself -- choreographer, music director, scenic director, lighting director, etc. In retrospect, he probably should have found someone to choreograph for him, as this was the area in which he was the weakest. I believe it's for this reason that his "dance" theater has disappeared so quickly since the time he was a major name (60s-80s). There isn't enough dance content to keep dance audiences coming back and, as bart notes, Cirque du Soleil has superseded Nikolais theater in terms of visual splendor.

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I also care very much about the centenaries of these great modern dance pioneers. Nikolais/Louis was one of my favorite modern dance techniques to learn. It made a body feel good and accomplished. Influenced by Mary Wigman and Hanya Holm among others, Nikolais and Murray Louis developed a basic technique which was a whole-body training applicable to many other modern techniques. Improvisation was an important component. I wish I could have spent longer studying this technique.

Walking in New York two years ago I was surprised to look up and see a street named "Anna Sokolow Way". I took a picture of it and told my daughter, who was with me, about Ms. Sokolow. Later I learned that it was the first time a New York street had been named after a female choreographer.

Like Nikolais, Hawkins was a forerunner in multimedia use. He needed live music for his dances and visual art as a further accompaniment. I was fascinated with the shapes he had his dancers make and the way he used costuming. I remember that Hawkins and Martha Graham were married for a time. He danced with her company in the 40's and was her first male dancer.

To me, all three are pillars of modern dance.

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Thanks so much for the link to the blog post on Nik -- he was a very special part of my dance education, and I'm thrilled to see him (and Murray) get some current recognition!

Sandi, I had the opportunity to see an edition of "From the Horse's Mouth" devoted to Nik, performed last night at the Henry Street Settlement (referred to here). Alberto Del Saz ("Tito"), among many others, danced AMAZINGLY--he must have a decrepit painting of himself in some attic somewhere! You would have loved it; I hope it was videoed!

EDITED TO ADD: Here's Robert Johnson's take on the evening.

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Walking in New York two years ago I was surprised to look up and see a street named "Anna Sokolow Way". I took a picture of it and told my daughter, who was with me, about Ms. Sokolow. Later I learned that it was the first time a New York street had been named after a female choreographer.
Marga, I just caught up with your post and agree entirely with your comments on the importance of commemorating -- and preserving the work of -- these choreographers. Here's a brief article about the dedication of Anna Sokolow Way. (She shares the honor with Alvin Ailey.) The sign is at 1 Christopher Street. It's not clear which part is actually Anna Sokolow Way.


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I'm hoping that the Kickstarter project eventually makes its way into the general population.

I think it's too late for Sokolow -- no influx of cash will save her repertory. She left no school or identifiable technique so there's no continuity with the past. The repertory is left to three schismatic successor companies (that only perform a few times a year, if that) and the kindnesses of like-minded companies like Limon and Graham.

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Thanks for the heads-up -- I would have missed this review.

Sokolow had a very distinctive approach to movement. I see bits and pieces in other choreographer's work, most of it unintentional, I'm sure. Whenever it shows up, I scribble "Anna moment" in my notes.

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