Liz Lerman dance celebrates Statue of Liberty centennial
As part of the celebrations of the centennial of the Statue of Liberty, Liz Lerman's Still Crossing was performed in Manhattan on July 11, 1986. The performance, part of a series of dance performances in a show called "Liberty Dances," brought together dancers from both of Lerman's companies: Dancers of the Third Age, a company of elderly dancers, and the younger Dance Exchange. The professional dancers were joined by members of the 92nd Street Y and a YWCA in Brooklyn in a piece that the New York Times reviewer described as simple but moving, with "dignity and eloquence."
Choreographer Liz Lerman was educated at the University of Maryland and at George Washington University, where she earned an M.A. in dance. She established the Dance Exchange in Washington, DC, in 1976, as a school that included classes for senior adults and "special populations." After three years, she also launched a touring Dance Exchange company; the school was later closed so that Lerman and the company could focus on creating new works.
From the beginning, Lerman's work has been deeply involved in issues of community building and community-based art. Like Dancers of the Third Age, many of her projects have incorporated performers outside of the mainstream dance world. In addition, she has created site-specific projects, including dances celebrating the 200th anniversary of the Portsmouth, NH, naval shipyard. Similarly, many of her dances take on themes of political or social importance. A 1987 program called "Atomic Priests and Other Dances" included a dance based on an official Department of Energy Report about how people 10,000 years from now might deal with nuclear waste. She has also produced what she calls a docudance entitled "Nine Short Dances About the Defense Budget and Other Military Matters." A reviewer has called Lerman "one of the most articulate and compassionate of social commentators in the arts today."
Lerman's work has been widely recognized for excellence. Lincoln Center, the American Dance Festival, BalletMet, and the Kennedy Center have all commissioned works. In 1988, Lerman was named Washingtonian of the Year by Washingtonian magazine. She has also received an American Choreographer Award, an American Jewish Congress "Golda" Award, and, in 2002, a MacArthur Fellowship.
Today, the Liz Lerman Dance Exchange operates out of Takoma Park, MD, and performs all over the United States and the world. Dancers of the Third Age, which also performs widely, operates as an adjunct company to the Dance Exchange. Current projects include "Prayer as a Radical Act/Radical Action as Prayer," which will be a dance/theatre piece that draws from ancient and contemporary prayer practices to explore unity and division, and "Ferocious Beauty: Genome," which will be a multi-media work exploring the impact of genetic research on our lives.
Sources: New York Times, July 13, 1986, October 23, 1987; www.danceexchange.org.
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Jewish Women's Archive. "Liz Lerman dance celebrates Statue of Liberty centennial." (Viewed on January 22, 2017) <https://jwa.org/thisweek/jul/11/1986/liz-lerman>.