Ririe-Woodbury Dance Company’s upcoming Family and Children concert, “Kaleidoscope,” Feb. 3-4 at Capitol Theatre, will mark the continuation of a tradition.
Even though the contemporary dance company is known for its cutting-edge choreography and premieres of original works, they’ve had the opportunity to uphold the unique repertory of influential American choreographer Alwin Nikolais for more than eight years.
The Nikolais-Louis Foundation for Dance formed during the 1970s, thanks to ongoing collaboration between Nikolais and Murray Louis, also a renowned dancer and choreographer. The foundation included the Nikolais Dance Theater, The Murray Louis Dance Company and The School and Chimerafilm (an audio-visual division). Upon Nikolais' death in 1993, they merged to one dance company that faded out by 1999.
Alberto del Saz, who danced with Nikolais' and Louis' companies since 1985, is co-director of the foundation with Louis. He explained that they decided it was time to bring the innovative choreography back to live audiences after their dance company's shutdown.
Ririe-Woodbury founders Joan Woodbury and Shirley Ririe had worked closely with Nikolais and Louis for years, and, Woodbury said, “they called Shirley and me and asked if we’d like to do this and we said ‘Oh, my gosh — how thrilling.’” The collaboration started in 2003.
“In a certain way they come from the same philosophy and the same way of thinking, and we thought that was a big plus in terms of having somebody re-create the works,” del Saz said.
Del Saz provides the artistic direction for the Nikolais performances Ririe-Woodbury does, including the upcoming “Kaleidoscope,” in order to properly execute the distinct Nikolais-Louis technique.
Companies all over the world perform separate Nikolais works and excerpts, but Ririe-Woodbury is the only professional dance company licensed to put on an entire performance of Nikolais’ work.
Performances like “Kaleidoscope” present pioneering choreography. Nikolais’ work has inspired the styles of many of today's sell-out artists, including Blue Man Group, Pilobolus, Momix and Cirque du Soleil.
“Nik was very fond of color and light,” Woodbury said. “And he of course believed in the whole experience. He called his works dance theater rather than just dance because he felt that the lighting, and the sound and the color were equally important.”
The choreographer was known for his creative use of colorful costuming and props—he even composed his own music. Audiences attending "Kaleidoscope" will see dancers using masks, elastic bands and bags, poles and discs to add to the movement.
“He was well-known for creating a certain environmental look to his pieces,” del Saz said.
And, Woodbury and del Saz agreed, Nikolais was a master of illusion.
Ririe-Woodbury’s performance will feature some familiar pieces like “Tensile Involvement,” and “Noumenon Mobilus,” and it will also provide the Salt Lake City premiere of “Gallery.”
“It’s pretty crazy because you have masks on, you have a black light and you have a very limited amount of space,” dancer Elizabeth Kelley, who’s been dancing with Ririe-Woodbury for six years, said about “Gallery.” She laughed, adding that it’s trickiest to make sure they don’t run into anything on stage.
But she appreciates the opportunities she’s had to learn much of the Nikolais’ repertory.
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