Welcome to The Unique Gesture. This 21st century platform reflects the ongoing efforts of a group of artists trained in the dance theories of 20th century multimedia choreographer and pedagogue Alwin Nikolais. We intend for this online exchange to position Nikolais among a pantheon of great creative thinkers throughout history, and to explore how his principles and theories of motion continue to inspire imaginative and innovative research in the Arts, Sciences, and Education.
Believing that motion is the engine for creative thinking, acting, and being, the mission of The Unique Gesture is to investigate and further define the qualitative theories of the creative process through interdisciplinary dialogue. We want to disturb perception and we want to provoke readers to re-examine what Alwin Nikolais referred to as the "fragile linkage" between the body and the mind.
We have meet periodically to reflect on the value of our particular training in the art of dance improvisation and composition. Central to the development of this practice is the belief that improvisation facilitates creative exploration and motional awareness in dance as well as in everyday physical activity. We ask ourselves: How is our learning applicable to other areas of the arts and sciences? Are there new frontiers of research in which using aesthetically driven improvisational skills are particularly well suited? How can the ideas we learned through our practical experience with Nikolais help to shape creative excellence in other fields of inquiry?
In his book The Nikolais/Louis Dance Technique Nikolais writes
The idea of the "unique gesture" was not deliberately conceived; it was simply born. Its only discipline was to envision a pathway into the landscape of the mind and then lead the spectator vicariously into the vision.
Unlike Nikolais' inspiration, The Unique Gesture intentionally conceived. As both dance practitioners and spectators we often find ourselves on that "pathway into the landscape of the mind."
It is a kaleidoscopic adventure, with moments of clarity and confusion, knowing and wonder, precision and chaos. Most of our discussions in this endeavor have considered our collective, decades-long kinetic experiences in technique and improvisation classes. We are increasingly intrigued by parallels we perceive between what we learned in our artistic practice and what contemporary science teaches us about the brain, about the intersection of the brain and the body, and of the interplay between sensate, mental and muscular intentions.
Our explorations into the value of improvisation and its transcendent possibilities have given rise to several questions. How is our training distinguishable from other improvisational forms and techniques? What characteristics of brain/body connectivity are developed in this practice? Are we, who have experienced the rapid-fire actions and inter-actions of physical improvisation, in any way bypassing the brain in our reactions; are we just very fast and skilled at brain/body motional decisions; can what we know through experience be quantified and applied to current investigations in neuroscience and consciousness; or better yet, recognizing that we are not research scientists or academics in the usual sense, how can we develop a mechanism for measuring these experiences for broader consideration?
Alwin Nikolais died in 1993. The depth and strength of his contributions to the arts of dance, multi-media, education, philosophy, and music continue to be recognized worldwide. It is neither our intention here to preserve his choreographic work nor to teach the Nikolais technique. Others have chosen to do just that. Nor is this platform an archive of his papers, films, videos, music, or slides. Those can be accessed elsewhere. What we interested in is how Nikolais' theories and pedagogic principles in the 21st century. We have asked ourselves and invite others to consider how the manifold processes of creativity and invention relate to one another across disciplines, whether they be in the fields of education, medicine, psychology, philosophy, the law, the arts, or other areas of inquiry.
Nikolais reasoned that "the concept of the unique gesture is ideally a profound dance concept in that it combines the human body, mind, and spirit." We hope that this forum will do the same. So, we offer The Unique Gesture as an invitation to future inquiry.