Murray Louis

Murray Louis is known throughout the world not only as one of the great male dancers, but also as a uniquely gifted choreographer, teacher and eloquent spokesman for the art of dance. Mr. Louis’ reputation as a master of the language of dance grew as he developed an eclectic, poetic, and skillfully articulate choreographic style. He has created over 100 works, toured five continents, and performed in every state in the United States of America. A variety of composers have created music for him. In addition he has choreographed to the music of Bach, Brahms, Schubert, Stravinsky, and Tchaikovsky, amongst others. Mr. Louis has choreographed dances for the Royal Danish Ballet, The José Limón Company, The Hamburg Opera Ballet, The Scottish Ballet, The Berlin Opera Ballet, The Cleveland Ballet, and for smaller companies in the United States and Canada.

Born in Brooklyn in 1926, Murray Louis grew up in Manhattan, not far from Henry Street where his company was to be founded years later. At the same time, his sister took him to many of the early modern dance concerts. After his discharge from the Navy in 1946, Mr. Louis, then a San Francisco resident, turned his attention to dance. He enrolled in Colorado College’s summer session conducted by Hanya Holm. It was there that he met Alwin Nikolais, who would become the single most important influence on his career. Mr. Louis returned to New York in 1949. While earning a Dramatic Arts degree at New York University, Louis attended class with Mr. Nikolais at Henry Street Playhouse. That same year, Mr. Louis made his debut as lead soloist in Mr. Nikolais’ newly formed Playhouse Dance Company (later renamed the Nikolais Dance Theater).

In 1951, Mr. Louis was appointed Associate Director to Mr. Nikolais, and became a driving force in the evolution of the aesthetic and pedagogic theory, which today is known as the Nikolais/Louis technique. The Murray Louis Dance Company was founded in 1953 and by 1957, John Martin of the New York Times wrote, “Louis has a body that is enormously eloquent, moving in every joint and muscle with inborn musicality in response to every nuance of feeling.” A series of more theatrical works followed, which John Martin called “subtle, intuitive, far more literal evocation of the internal world of a single individual.” In 1968, the Murray Louis Dance Company was chosen to represent the U.S. State Department on a two month tour of India. Since then, through its annual home season and domestic and international tours the Company has established itself as a major force in the world of dance.

He piloted the ”Artist in School” program in 1972.

In 1978, he created two works for Rudolph Nureyev to premiere on Broadway. Mr. Louis also created a special program when Mr. Nureyev danced opposite him as a special guest artist with the Murray Louis Dance Company. Mr. Louis has been commissioned by the 16th International Festival of Dance at the Theatre Champs-Elysées in Paris, the Taorimina Art Festival in Sicily, and the American Dance Festival. He has been a continuous recipient of grants from the National Endowment for the Arts since 1969. Together with Alwin Nikolais, he choreographed and staged Lenny and the Heartbreakers, a musical for Joseph Papp’s New York Shakespeare Festival. Mr. Louis has worked extensively in television in the US and Europe, both creating and adapting works for the medium. He created Stravinsky’s Pulcinello for The Bat Sheva Dance Company for Israeli television in Tel Aviv. He also choreographed and staged The Tales of Cri-Cri, starring Placido Domingo, for Televisa, Mexico City. In July of 1987, PBS televised Christian Blackwood’s award winning documentary film, Nik and Murray, as part of the American Masters series. During the summer of 1989, the Princeton Book Publishing Company released a home video entitled, Murray Louis in Concert, a collection of solos. The company’s 1984 New York City Center season marked the premiere of a collaboration between The Murray Louis Dance Company and The Dave Brubeck Quartet. For four highly successful seasons this unique full-length program was enjoyed by audiences in the US, Europe, and Japan.

Considered one of the world’s great dance teachers, Mr. Louis offers his students a rare insight into the theory and practice of the art. His collection of essays, Inside Dance, was published by St. Martin’s Press. Mr. Louis’ five part film series, Dance as an Art Form, has become a standard introduction series for Educational Arts programs in the United States. The series received international notice and is part of the film libraries of most major cities in the world. During the summer of 1989, he received a special citation from New York City’s Mayor, which he shared with Alwin Nikolais. His second book of essays, On Dance, has been published by A Cappella Books. In 1995, the Company performed at Carnegie Hall for 10,000 children during thier “LINK” program. Also, Mr. Louis choreographed an homage to the Swedish Ballet through the Guggenheim Museum’s “Works and Process” series. In 1996, Mr. Louis completed a five part video series, The World of Alwin Nikolais, which is being added to video libraries around the world. In 1998, Mr. Louis was selected as a Phi Beta Kappa Visiting Scholar for a "distinguished lecture" tour of 12 Universities and Colleges in the United States. Also in 1998, Mr. Louis was selected as a Lucia Chase Fellow. In 1999, Mr. Louis was a recipient of an Honorary Doctorate of Performing Arts from Ohio University in Athens, Ohio. In 2000, he received his second Honorary Degree from Rutgers University in New Jersey. In 2004 Mr. Louis recieved an honorary Doctorate of Fine  Arts from the Boston Conservatory.  In 2005 Routledge Press published a manual of the philosophy and method of the Nikolais-Louis technique.  In 2006 he recieved an honorary Doctorate from Shenandoah University.

Living Legacy | December 9 – December 14, 2004

Alwin Nikolais Video

Murray Louis worked with the MANCC technology team to produce two edited video works related to the choreographic legacy of Alwin Nikolais. Louis and staff worked to edit rare footage of Nikolais speaking about his theories and philosophy on dance performance and choreography from documentation shot in the mid 1980s and early 1990s. Additionally, Nikolais’s work, Scenario (1971), was digitally enhanced and edited.

Featured Artist

Faye Driscoll

February 22 - 24
Carolina Performing
Arts, UNC Chapel Hill


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