News: Quality in Motion

At first glance, the reconstruction of Alwin Nikolais’ masterpiece Kaleidoscope Suite more closely resembles a Pixar animated chess game than a dance rehearsal. Dancers scuffle around the studio, lips pursed, cheeks sucked in, heads angled right, then suddenly left. Counts soar beyond the usual “5, 6, 7, 8” to “. . . 48, 49,” and back to “1, 2.” The precision movements, layered with lights, props, electronic music and costumes, will evolve into a mystical, theatrical, onstage environment. But don’t mistake this for another Cirque du Soleil or Blue Man Group. Beyond the spectacle of the stage, Nikolais’ deeply held philosophy is about qualitative movement.


Salt Lake City’s Ririe-Woodbury Dance Company will perform Kaleidoscope Suite as part of Nikolais’ 100th birthday celebration. The company has partnered with the Nikolais/Louis Foundation for Dance, New York City, on a two-year, two-continent centennial tour that began in October and covers six cities in France, towns across the U.S. and an eight-night run in New York City. But this tour is as much about educating students and audiences as it is about the live performances.


“Everything Nik did helped dancers learn how to perform,” RW company co-founder Joan Woodbury says. “He taught how to place your energy inside the material so that you can fulfill it. It makes dancers better in everything they do.”


Woodbury and RW’s other co-founder, Shirley Ririe, began a lifelong connection with Nikolais in 1949 that thrives in spirit through Alberto del Saz, artistic director for the Nikolais/Louis Foundation. Del Saz, who is also artistic director for the centennial performances and workshops, moved from his home in Spain to NYC in 1983 to become a soloist with Nikolais Dance Theatre two years later. Ririe, Woodbury and del Saz’s mutual belief in the benefits of the Nikolais philosophy is as strong today as it was decades ago.


Nikolais’ work is based on a philosophy, not a style or technique. Del Saz explains that when choreographers base work on style, “the costumes and lighting change, but the essence of the movement is the same. After two hours, it becomes very repetitious.” Nikolais used the term “motion” rather than “movement,” del Saz says. “Movement is the pure locomotion of the body from one point to another in space. Motion is the quality of the movement. The theatrical environment was the common denominator in Nik’s works, but each piece presents a completely new challenge for the dancers to express different qualitative movement.”


The strong focus for the Alwin Nikolais centennial tour is to teach dancers about those subtle differences, as well as to preserve Nikolais’ important place in dance history. In each city, del Saz will teach master classes and workshops to university, conservatory and art school students. A fully produced performance will complete each stop, and in some locales the professional RW dancers will perform with and for the students. The two organizations are joining forces to ensure that Nikolais’ philosophy is passed on. “Nik taught that the job of a dancer is to help the audience experience ‘it’ [the work], not ‘you,’” Woodbury says. “It was, and is, egoless.”


For a schedule of performances, see: DT



Kathy Adams is dance critic for the Salt Lake Tribune and has written about dance for Dance Magazine and Salt Lake Magazine. Photo by Fred Hayes, courtesy of Ririe-Woodbury Dance Company

Teaching Tips
A 2019 Dancewave training. Photo by Effy Grey, courtesy Dancewave

By now, most dance educators hopefully understand that they have a responsibility to address racism in the studio. But knowing that you need to be actively cultivating racial equity isn't the same thing as knowing how to do so.

Of course, there's no easy answer, and no perfect approach. As social justice advocate David King emphasized at a recent interactive webinar, "Cultivating Racial Equity in the Classroom," this work is never-ending. The event, hosted by Dancewave (which just launched a new racial-equity curriculum) was a good starting point, though, and offered some helpful takeaways for dance educators committed to racial justice.

Keep reading... Show less
Higher Ed
The author, Robyn Watson. Photo courtesy Watson

Recently, I posted a thread of tweets elucidating the lack of respect for tap dance in college dance programs, and arguing that it should be a requirement for dance majors.

According to, out of the 30 top-ranked college dance programs in the U.S., tap dance is offered at 19 of them, but only one school requires majors to take more than a beginner course—Oklahoma City University. Many prestigious dance programs, like the ones at NYU Tisch School of the Arts and SUNY Purchase, don't offer a single course in tap dance.

Keep reading... Show less
Teaching Tips
Getty Images

After months of lockdowns and virtual learning, many studios across the country are opening their doors and returning to in-person classes. Teachers and students alike have likely been chomping at the bit in anticipation of the return of dance-class normalcy that doesn't require a reliable internet connection or converting your living room into a dance space.

But along with the back-to-school excitement, dancers might be feeling rusty from being away from the studio for so long. A loss of flexibility, strength and stamina is to be expected, not to mention emotional fatigue from all of the uncertainty and reacclimating to social activities.

So as much as everyone wants to get back to normal—teachers and studio owners included—erring on the side of caution with your dancers' training will be the most beneficial approach in the long run.

Keep reading... Show less

Get Dance Business Weekly in your inbox

Sign Up Used in accordance with our Privacy Policy.