Monday, March 31, 2008

TENT, The Multimedia Modern Dance By Alwin Nikolais

Tent was choreographed by Alwin Nikolais, he was also the composer, set, and lighting designer. The first production was at the University of South Florida, Tampa, in 1968. The original dancers were Murray Louis, Phyllis Lamhut, Carolyn Carlson, Michael Ballard, Emery Hermans, Gale Oriston, Wamda Pruska, Sara Shelton, Robert Solomon, Batya Zamir.

When Alwin Nikolais died in 1993, a number of critics had interesting things to say about his uses of technology and props in general and his implementation of these in specific ways for Tent. For some dances, props are merely that; with Tent, however, the prop is the central figure. A group of dancers march onto the stage carrying a folded white cloth with a hole in the center and let it settle onto the floor. Ultimately, the cloth will swallow up the men and women who so confidently brought it onto the stage a few minutes before.

First, a series of wires with clips are lowered from the ceiling and the dancers attach the wires to the cloth, which soon becomes their covering. For a few moments the dancers move gracefully beneath the tent, yet soon the tent descends on them and stops their motion. A man rises through the circular opening, and others follow, but their movements are more disturbed now, it is clear that the tent has had some sort of disruptive effect on their assemblage. The tent rises again, but its dominance is now established and the wires make it seem to move of its own volition. Eventually, it covers the dancers again, until their legs and arms come up, bearing facial masks resembling many-headed hydra. Once more the tent comes up and seems to toy with the dancers, moving rapidly up and down while they move uncertainly beneath it. And then, finally, it falls and does not rise again.

In a review of a 1993 production honoring the recently deceased Nikolais, Tobi Tobias compared the tent to a fiery cloud or a mushroom cloud. Tent appears to be about technology which eventually comes to dominate its erstwhile master. Joseph Mazo wrote in his review of Tent that if we use material as a weapon it backfires and if we make it into a god we will be eaten alive. Alwin Nikolais was a choreographer, costume designer, lighting designer and composer of sound scores. He was a revolutionary, and in the end the effects of his revolution in modern dance were so pervasive that people often fail to realize the origins of those innovations.

No comments: