Reprinted from yesterday's late editions.
Alwin Nikolais, the Captain Marvel of choreography, took over Lisner Auditorium Tuesday night with his troupe of 10 dancers, and turned the place into a cross between Kubla Khan's pleasuredome and Flash Gordon's cosmic circus.
It might be exaggerating a bit to say that if you haven't seen Nikolais' work you haven't lived. But it would be fair enough to claim that minues such a sampling, you have missed out on one of the most extraordinary theatrical wonders of the age. As a conjuror of never-before-imagined visions and spectacles, Nikolais is unsurpassed.
Nik, as he is known familiarly, is 65, and is as much an innovator now as when he started cutting up like this in the early '50s. If he didn't invent the multimedia concept, he has certainly given it the strongest run for the money. No one else in the dance field and few in theater in general have put emerging new sonic and visual technologies to such cunning artistic use. He has influenced many, but he has never had a single successful imitator. Nik is one of a kind, but that one is many. Throughout most of his career, he has designed and created every aspect of his productions - movement, costumes, decor, lighting and sound (usually electronic).
Still, he's been a perennial source of controversy. It's not dance, some say of his work. It' not human, say others. It's not serious, still others charge.
It's easy enough to see how these cavils arise. Nik has the audacity to be playful, and even downright childish at times. And his choreography treats movement in the larger sense of metamorphosis, of a transformation of sensibilities. Toward this end he calls into play every device of illusionary stagecraft at his command, and that about includes them all. In this context, the dance ceases to be a fictional personage or even the embodiment of an idea. The danger for Nik, is primarily an organic shape, of infinite, self-willed malleability. The dancer is the central, but by no means the only, element in a [WORD ILLEGIBLE] pageant of stunning scope and freedom.
Nik has his faults, too, of course, longwindedness being one of them, and structural laxity another. On the whole, they don't greatly interfere with one's pleasure in his fabulous inventions.
Nik is installed at Lisner for a week, his longest run thus far in Washington. Of the three works shown the first evening, the oldest was the Group Dance from "Sanctum" (1964), which uses stretch fabrics to populate a kind of animal cracker dream world. The most recent, "Guignol (Dummy Dances)" (1977), is more like a space-age "Coppelia." Harking back to Nik's youthful enthusiasm for marionettes, it rings wry changes on the general theme of puppetry and puppeteers, ending with a mock orgy in which the helpless dolls are ravished by their keepers. It could easily be read as a comment on the dance world. The most prolific in effects was "Triad" (1976), in which slide projections, color modulation, distorting mirrors and stroboscopes help to engender a continually surprising plantasmagoria.