Murray Louis remembers what it was like to work with the late choreographer/artist Alwin Nikolais on "Tower."
"First of all, it wasn't called 'Tower,"' said Louis during a rehearsal break at the Rose Wagner Center a couple of weeks ago. "Nik developed the work as we went along."
The work utilized scaffolding and the construction of a large pillar made of fabrics.
"Nik experimented with different materials for this work," said Louis, who is the director of the Nikolais/Louis Foundation for Dance. "He found out the size and shape and textures we needed. But it was up to the dancers to bring life to the work. It was up to us to figure out how to give the material life and mobility."
Since its premiere in 1965, "Tower," which will be performed by Ririe-Woodbury Dance Company, has been interpreted as a statement regarding communication and the end of the world, and what critics and dancers have dubbed "The Tower of Babel."
"It wasn't like that in the beginning," said Louis. "Nik (who died in 1993) wanted us to make noises that would eventually become the score. So we did. The dancers spoke, shouted and mumbled, and that was chopped up and put together to create the score."
Louis said back when Nikolais and his dancers were creating "Tower," there was a lot of unrest in the world.
"Russia, Vietnam, atomic fusion, the Cold War were all in full force," said Louis. "And there were parallels to all of the unrest culminating into something that we didn't know what was going to happen.
"In 'Tower,' the whole thing ends in a conflagrations of sorts," said Louis.
In 1985, Alberto del Saz, co-director of the Nikolais/Louis Foundation for Dance, became part of the cast and re-created the work.
"The challenge back then was to stay as faithful to the original work," said del Saz during the same rehearsal break. "And now, there is another challenge of setting it on different dance companies because today there are some dancers who aren't familiar with Nik's movement philosophy.
"During 'Tower,' the dancers do get some time to experiment and improvise," said del Saz. "But it is my job to guide them to the right type of movements during their improvisations. Dancers' approach to dance has changed in the past 40 years, even the past 20 since I danced this work. And it is up to us to preserve Nik's ideals."
"That's why it is important for the Ririe-Woodbury Dance Company to do this work," said Louis.
Five years ago, RWDC made it a mission to preserve the Nikolais repertory, with Louis and del Saz's blessings, said Louis.
"You need to give Joan (Woodbury) and Shirley (Ririe) a lot of credit for taking on this assignment," said Louis. "They know the importance of not allowing these ground-breaking works to be lost."In addition to "Tower," the performance will include other Nikolais works "Tinsidle Involvement," "Crucible" and "Liturgies," which is another Salt Lake premiere.
If you go ...
What: Tower, Ririe-Woodbury Dance Company
Where: Rose Wagner Center, 138 W. 300 South
When: Thursday through Saturday, 7:30 p.m.; also Saturday, 2 p.m.
How much: $30
Phone: 355-2787, 888-451-2787Web: www.arttix.org