Reprinted from yesterday's late editions.
Alwin Nikolais, whose program at Lisner Auditorium Wednesday, is one of the Auditorium Wednesday, is one of the master tinkerers of our era. There's something in him of the American shirtsleeves inventor, who putters with gadgetry in a dank garage and emerges with a discovery that shatters whole industries.
He's part crackpot and part genius, and the singular dance art he is still evolving profits from both these atributes. He once wrote of himself, "I am a compulsive creater - if you give me a schnauzer, two Armenian chastity belts and a 19th-century dish pan - I would attempt to create something with them."
If you know Nik and his work, you know he would succeed.
Wednesday's program of three works - "Temple" (1974), "Styx," premiered last year, and "Tower" (1965) - seemed designed as a wordless write Nikolais off as a "true" choreographer. Though the works are considerably different in tone and substance, they all put the company dancers in the foreground of awareness, despite the customary surroundings of multimedia wizardy.
Still, Nikolais' choreography is group oriented, for the most part. Though there are solos and duets, they emerge from the ensemble and return to it. Nikolais' work encourages neither "stardom" nor ego mesage. In the past, such Nikolais roteges as Murray Louis and Phyllis Lamhut managed to establish a personal cachet without disturbing the stylistic integrity of the group, but in the present company, one sees little of this sort of individual distinction.
What one did notice in Wednesday's program were the recurring traits of the choreography itself. Nikolais' dancers almost always seem controlled by impulses originating outside themselves, by a push, a pull, a twist, a pinch or a swat from some invisible source that sets them in motion. The moment emphasizes elastic extremes. At one pole, the dancers' bodies seem completely rubberized, bouncy and flexibel to the nth degree. At the other, the limbs and torsos become rigid, and the dancers move like automatons.
One noted, too, that each of the three works concluded with some sort of apocalyptic imagery. "Temple," which is mostly abstract calisthenics, ends with the dancers, lit by a deep ruby glow, appearing to be suspended in midair. At the finale of "Styx," the dancers - dead souls in passage to eternity? - encase themselves in transparent plastic spores, as if each were sealed up in his own TV set. "Tower," like the tale of Babel it echoes, culminates in cataclysm, though recent changes in staging seem to have diminished its impact. A fascinating trio of creations, and only Nikolais could possibly have dreamt them up.