June 13th, 2005
Murray Louis
About Murray Louis

For nearly sixty years, Alwin Nikolais was modern dance’s pioneer of multimedia. Among his best known performances are “Masks, Props, and Mobiles” (1953), “Totem” (1960), and “Count Down” (1979). Nikolais would often present his dancers in constrictive spaces and costumes with complicated sound and sets, designed to confuse the process of dance. By placing obstacles in the dancers’ way, he focused their attention on the physical tasks of overcoming those obstacles. Nikolais viewed the dancer not as an artist of self-expression, but as a talent who could investigate the properties of physical space and movement.

In 1949, while teaching in Colorado, Nikolais met a young dancer named Murray Louis. Louis’ technique and attention to physicality impressed Nikolais. Working closely, the two began to create work that questioned the basic foundations of modern dance. At the time, Nikolais was proposing a theory he called “decentralization.” Decentralization held that in depersonalizing dancers through costume and design they could be liberated from their own forms. For Louis, this decentralization cut through to the very heart of dance. Using sound collage and changing images projected onto both the stage and the dancers, Nikolais could shift the focus away from any one individual dancer, and concentrate on the overall effect of the production.

In New York, Louis began dancing for The Nikolais Dance Company, improving his technique and expanding his conception of dance. For Nikolais, this was an opportunity to choreograph for a dancer whose physical ability and critical involvement in dance were perfectly compatible with his new work. In 1953, while continuing to perform for Nikolais, Louis formed his own company. Unlike Nikolais, Louis both choreographed and performed his own work. Through the intimate relationship of their two directors, The Murray Louis Dance Company and the Nikolais Dance Theater created a dialogue that pushed the boundaries of contemporary avant-garde dance.

Over their forty years of collaboration Nikolais and Louis brought their vision to every part of the world. In 1978 Nikolais choreographed A “Ceremony for Bird People” in France. The piece, shown in a city street, was performed by local gymnasts. For Nikolais, the use of athletes instead of artists was a continuation of his experiments with “decentralization.” Using ropes hanging from trees and a float moving down the middle of the road, Nikolais created a public performance that was almost completely separate from the traditional practices of dance. Experimental techniques such as these allow “A Ceremony for Bird People” to combine the precision of modern choreography with the spontaneity of a parade. It is the combination of seemingly disparate elements that motivate the works of both Louis and Nikolais.

Through their constant experimentation, Alwin Nikolais and Murray Louis have inspired generations of young choreographers to move beyond the limits of contemporary dance. In May of 1993, Alwin Nikolais died in New York. Among his many great honors were the 1987 National Medal of Arts awarded by President Ronald Reagan and the French Ministry of Culture’s subsidizing of a school dedicated to his teachings. It is through the continued work of organizations such as this and through the continued work of Murray Louis that the experimentation of both men remain a challenge to new generations.

 

  • Eric D.

    I performed in a film directed by Murray Louis in the early 70’s entitled something like “World of Dance.” Does anyone know where i could get a copy??

  • Donna Kerness

    Yey Murray!
    Once, while visiting Nik after a performance back stage in Texas , he called me “one of his babies”.
    You guys have given us life time treasures of how to live in this world as a creative entity..
    Thanks..
    wish I could see you…but you won’t be around this june 23rd-july 2nd when I will be in New York for my
    50th High School Reunion..
    Cheers
    Donna Kerness

  • Babette Coffey Fisch

    Dearest Murray, I hope this gets to you.
    I managed to bring your company and Niks to Charlotte, N.C. for 2 ,1/2 week residencies.
    I loved your performances so much.
    I have been a nurse the past 31 years but managed to produce 5 videos/dvd’s and document The Lester Horton Technique with Ailey Co. dancers and faculty over a period of 25 years.
    We are getting ready to film again some new classes.
    Murray PLEASE, would you teach a class and let us film you for a DVD?
    You are one of the best teachers ever…..we need to have a Murray Louis class DVD!!!
    Email me at BBnos@aol.com
    Lets talk.
    Babs – remember? The Jersey girl…..now 65 years old and still going strong.

  • Peter Goldhammer

    Murray,
    I have seen your dancing and Alvin Nik. since the Henry Street Settlement House in the Lower East Side of Manhatten.

    I have moved to the Tampa Bay area of Florida some 20 years ago. I miss going to your performances and wondered if your Dance Co. has any chances of traveling south this year.
    If not, can you send me, via email, the Company’s performance schedule.

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