Alwin Nikolais was a theatrical jack-of-all-trades. He choreographed. He composed. He designed costumes and sets. He did the lighting design for his works.
But most of all, he was imaginative. It came as no surprise that the Kennedy Center commissioned Nikolais to create a work for its Imagination Celebration, which was directed toward children.
So, in 1990, three years before Nikolais passed away, he choreographed the 50-minute work, said Nikolais Foundation artistic and repertory director Alberto "Tito" del Saz.
"Nik choreographed it on students," said del Saz during an interview with the Deseret Morning News. "At the time, his company (the Nikolais Dance Theater) was too busy to do another project, so he set the work on children. And later set the work on the company."
"The Crystal and the Sphere" is, like all of Nikolais' works, a mixed media extravaganza, del Saz said. "But unlike most of his other pieces, this one isn't as abstract. I mean, there are birds called waddle birds, a mermaid and chess pieces that are part of a scene called 'Chess Skaters.' They all have that Nikolais stamp of imagination and style, but there is no mistaking what they are."
One segment was taken from an earlier Nikolais piece, "Tensile Involvement." During that segment, the dancers dance with stage-area-large, glowing elastic strands.
"But the rest of the work was all original choreography," del Saz said.
The production is like watching a living video game, he said. "It is done mostly in black light and fluorescent costumes. So the colors and images are sharp, vivid and bright. It is a visual work. Nik wanted to get into the minds of his audience. He wanted to touch people's imagination."
In addition to the brightly colored costumes, there are some eye-catching sets that also serve as projector screens.
"One of those is what we call the 'sun,"' del Saz said. "It is a sphere about 7 or 8 feet in diameter and sits toward the back of the stage. We project videos on it.
"The other is the crystal, which looks like a pyramid. And that, too, will have projected images shown on it."
The challenge for the dancers while they work with such large sets is, of course, the lack of space for dancing.
"It gets a little tight at times," del Saz said with a little chuckle. "There is no dancing upstage because it is literally filled with the two items. But there is a lot of movement downstage."
The choreographer said he enjoys dancing Nikolais works because they all are different.
"Sure, you know a Nik work when you see it because of the style, but each selection has a different approach aesthetically and choreographically.
"I mean, a dancer could be in five Nik works in one show and each will have their own challenges. And for the audience, each work is a new experience on the senses."
Setting the work on the seven Ririe-Woodbury dancers was a fun challenge, said del Saz. "The work was originally set on five dancers. So it's a little easier this time around. But regardless, there is a lot of things that need to be done. If a dancer isn't on stage dancing, he or she is literally backstage changing costumes."The work was created 28 years ago. "Bodies have changed over the years. And dancers move a little differently than they did back then. So there are subtle changes in the work. But the idea, goals and philosophy of the movement are the same."
If you go . . .
What: "The Crystal and the Sphere," Ririe-Woodbury Dance Company
Where: Capitol Theatre, 50 W. 200 South
When: Friday and Saturday, 7 p.m.; Saturday, 2 p.m.
How much: $30
Phone: 355-2787 or 888-451-2787