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Alwin Nikolais (1910-1993) studied with Graham and Doris Humphrey, among others, and after service in World War II became director of the Henry Street Playhouse in Manhattan, a center for experimental theater where he developed his own company. At this time, Murray Louis (b. 1926), also just out of the service, became his student, his lover, his colleague, and life partner.

Nikolais's innovation was to choreograph movement for dancers who were encased in flexible costumes that completely obscured their human form. He was also a great lighting designer. Thus, Nikolais created the first truly "abstract" choreography, movement shaped with no connection to reality, which seemed to float in colored space.

Louis formed his own company and choreographed work noted for its comic timing and humorous style. Later the Louis and Nikolais companies merged. Murray Louis continues to create new work.

Cunningham, Taylor, Ailey, and Falco

Merce Cunningham (b. 1919) was a leading dancer for Martha Graham, who created many roles for him, most notably the self-flagellating hero of El Penitente (1940). In 1942, Cunningham began an enduring relationship with composer John Cage (1912-1992), who began to write scores for Cunningham's ballets.

Forming his own company in 1953, Cunningham became a leading light in the avant-garde. Cunningham says that his choreography depends on neither music nor design for inspiration, but "on chance." Still, his later work appears tightly composed to music and uses many elements of classical ballet.

Paul Taylor (b. 1930), one of the giants of American dance, trained as a swimmer and so was in great shape when he came to New York in 1952 to study modern dance with Graham, Limón, Cunningham, and Humphrey, and ballet with Antony Tudor and Margaret Craske. Taylor first danced in Cunningham's company and then as a leading dancer in Graham's. He founded his own company in 1954, working closely with artist Robert Rauschenberg, who designed all of Taylor's ballets of the 1950s.

Taylor's work is quite varied, but always well calculated for the effects it would create. In an early piece, typical of the avant-garde of the era, Duet (1957), literally nothing happens. Taylor and his pianist did not move to Cage's "non-score." This nothing event, of course, gained him and his company much publicity and comment.

Although openly gay, Taylor evinces no particularly gay sensibility in his choreography. Indeed, at the opposite pole from Graham's, his work evinces very little sexual passion. Although he has explored psychological darkness, his work can be joyous and humorous. It sometimes expresses great tenderness for human frailty. Like Graham, Taylor reshaped the parameters of dance and attracted a new audience for a new art form.

Alvin Ailey (1931-1989) also studied with Martha Graham, among other teachers. After dancing on Broadway, Ailey formed his own company in 1957. Blues Suite (1958), one of his earliest works, defines the choreographer's particular genius. Deriving from blues songs and expressing the pain and anger of African Americans, the work combines ballet, modern dance, jazz, and black dance techniques, plus flamboyant theatricality and intense emotional appeal. Ailey's masterpiece is Revelations (1960), which is based on African-American spirituals and gospel music. It may be the most popular ballet created in the twentieth century.

A student of Graham and a protégé of Limón, Louis Falco (1942-1993) danced with Limón's company. Ravishingly beautiful, with a great frizz of hair in the flower-child mode, he began to choreograph when he formed his own company in 1967. His early work was abstract, but he increasingly used decors and props designed by avant-garde artists. Eventually, he moved from modern dance to ballet, creating works for the Netherlands Dance Theatre, the Ballet Rambert, and La Scala Ballet. He was the choreographer for the film Fame (1980).

Contemporary Choreographers

A number of contemporary choreographers are openly gay and often quite explicit in their depiction of homoeroticism and in presenting homosexual themes. There are also a smaller number of lesbian choreographers, although they have not yet won the kind of national and international recognition that the gay male and bisexual choreographers have achieved. Among the rising stars in lesbian dance are such figures as Anne Blumenthal, Jill Togawa, and Krissy Keefer. Togawa is associated with the Purple Moon Dance Project and Keefer is artistic director of the Bay Area's Dance Brigade.

In the vanguard of openly gay male choreographers are Bill T. Jones, Mark Morris, Joe Goode, Stephen Petronio, and Peter Pucci, all of whom came to prominence in the 1980s and established their own companies.

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