Liz Lerman: Still Dancing, Still Crossing
This July marks one year since choreographer, author, and innovator Liz Lerman parted ways with her dance company, formerly the Liz Lerman Dance Exchange (now just the Dance Exchange) to fly solo as an independent choreographer.
Known for projects that integrate dancers from across the intergenerational spectrum, as well as explore the intersection of dance and science (“The Matters of Origins," “Ferocious Beauty: Genome”), dance and politics (“Nine Short Dances About The Defense Budget. . .”), dance and Judaism (“The Good Jew”), dance and conversation (“The Treadmill Tapes” at Harvard), she is inclusive, far-reaching, and far-ranging. In her book Hiking the Horizontal this scholar-dancer describes how we can (and must) shift our consciousness and creative approach from a vertical, hierarchal structure to a horizontal, all-inclusive one. She marries piercing inquiry with all- encompassing collaboration. For example, some of her greatest work began with the question: “Who gets to dance?”
Liz Lerman brings dance to the people. She brings ideas to the people. Whether performing in shipyards or theatres, hospitals, nursing homes or temples, she invites performers and audiences alike to join her in exploration. Uniting the head and the heart, the personal story and the universal story, she reorients our paradigm: we all have the potential to be artists, and we all have something worthwhile to say.
At the end this 2009 video interview, in response to the question, "Why do you dance?", Liz Lerman responds, “It’s one of the most human things we can do because art is a birthright. And the possibility of people being creative, that is one of the ways we are our most human selves."
A MacArthur Genius Award recipient, she is spotlighted in JWA’s This Week In History for her piece "Still Crossing," which in 1986 celebrated the Statue of Liberty’s centennial by bringing together elderly dancers from her group, the Third Age, with younger, professional dancers from the Dance Exchange, as well as members of the 92nd Street Y. Sometimes, like folk dance, a project such as this can be more engaging for those doing the activity than for those watching, but in this case, the New York Times reviewer praised the piece for its “dignity and elegance."
"Still Crossing" was part of a larger series called Liberty Dances. As Liz Lerman enters this new life stage, I can’t help but marvel that it is she who is “still crossing” in beautiful and exciting ways, she who is finding “liberty” in her new projects, collaborations and dance.
“At the age of 63 I left the Dance Exchange, my home of 34 years. I left it in the small hands but wide embrace of a group of young artists who are doing just fine. They have ‘composted’ me and are taking the best of the values and underlying philosophy of the place and repurposing it for this world now.”
Like the immigrants seeing the Statue of Liberty for the first time, she feels her life “is wide open at the moment." She is "a little frightened, a lot more curious, and full of wonder. . .”
Who do you think "gets to dance"? And where does dance fit into your life?
This post is the third in a series on “Jewesses with Attitude”—Women Who Have Inspired Change.