Celebrating Research

  Library Overviews & Collection Profiles Contact:
ARL Web Manager
Ohio University Libraries

The Alwin Nikolais and Murray Louis Dance Collection, The Robert E. and Jean R. Mahn Center for Archives and Special Collections

Collection Profile

The Alwin Nikolais and Murray Louis Dance Collection, a dazzling multimedia collection, illustrates 80 years of modern dance in the United States and chronicles the careers of two modern dance icons. Alwin Nikolais (1910–1993), often referred to as the "father of multimedia theater," choreographed dance, composed electronic music, and integrated sets, lighting, slide projections, and costumes for "total theater" dance performances. Murray Louis (1926– ), a successful and multi-talented choreographer, dancer, teacher, and writer, collaborated with the National Endowment for the Arts in bringing dance to public school children, and was an innovator in university artists-in-residence programs. Together and separately, the nationally and internationally acclaimed Nikolais and Louis created over 250 choreographic works, as they developed a philosophy of dance and a method of teaching it.

According to the PBS American Masters series, "Through their constant experimentation, Alwin Nikolais and Murray Louis have inspired generations of young choreographers to move beyond the limits of contemporary dance…. Among [Nikolais's] 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 school] and the continued work of Murray Louis that the experimentation of both men remains a challenge to new generations."

Ohio University Libraries' Nikolais and Louis collection contains over 400 cubic feet of primary source materials, extending chronologically from the 1920s through 2006. It includes manuscripts, sound scores, dance notation, photographs, video and audio, posters, programs, and reviews—virtually every artifact produced during the careers of Nikolais and Louis. An openly accessible university Web site dedicated to the collection includes the finding aid and sample images from each of the collection series. Sixteen innovative dances—over five hours of performance—are viewable in streaming video on the Web site.

Murray Louis donated the collection to Ohio University in the late 1990s as a result of his lifelong friendship and artistic collaboration with Gladys Bailin, who danced with Nikolais and Louis and subsequently directed Ohio University's School of Dance.

The collection quickly became a valuable research tool and an inspiration for performers, which is exactly what Murray Louis had in mind when he chose an academic setting for it.

Each year students from Ohio University's History of Dance classes research the collection as a required component of their class projects. Meanwhile, students and faculty from the University's School of Dance, along with researchers and professional dancers from outside of the university, continue to review the collection for both scholarship and performance. Scholarly journals, dance history books, university publications and dance magazines include research from—and reference to—the Alwin Nikolais and Murray Louis Dance Collection. Claudia Gitelman's The Returns of Alwin Nikolais, to be published in the spring of 2007, includes essays based on material gleaned from the collection by dance historians.

Collection Profile and Overview: Judith Connick
Illustrations: Rick Fatica

More About This Collection


Back to Library Overview