Tensile Involvement, 1987, choreography, set, lighting and score by Alwin Nikolais, known for his experimental projects featuring mixed-media spectacle and electronic music.

Alwin Nikolais's 1959 work, Allegory, Photo courtesy of New York Public Library Alwin Nikolais's 1959 work Allegory, in which costumes re-shape and depersonalize the dancers bodies. (Photograph from the Dance Division, New York Public Library for the Performing Arts, Astor, Lenox, and Tilden Foundations.)

A great experimentalist of modern dance, Alwin Nikolais (1910-1993) was born in Southington, Connecticut. He studied dance with Truda Kaschmann, a former student of Mary Wigman, and with Hanya Holm at the Bennington School of Dance, creating his first choreography for Hartford theater productions. After serving in the armed forces, he settled in New York. In 1948 he initiated a twenty-two-year association with the Henry Street Playhouse, where he formed the Nikolais Dance Theatre and produced his unique brand of dance theater. He developed a corps of dedicated young dancers, including Murray Louis and Phyllis Lamhut; broke away from narrative and Freudian dance drama; and began to explore abstraction. His works were characterized by an interaction of light, sound, color, time, shape, objects, and moving bodies. Nikolais was unique among his peers in that he was responsible for the complete production of his work, not just the choreography. He was fascinated by decentralization, and in many of his works the body was indistinguishable from its surrounding environment.

Learn more in Alwin Nikolais, an essay by Ted Bain.