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The text on this page is adapted from Behind the Scenes, a booklet written by Ben Brooks and designed as a companion piece for "Journey with Me: Stories of Growing Older."
"Journey" is a video* component of Secrets of Aging, a traveling exhibition developed by the Museum of Science in Boston.
Behind the Scenes
How did "Journey" come about? Typically at exhibits, visitors pick and choose what they spend time with. They might spend 15 minutes at some of the stops, a minute or two at certain kiosks, and they might skip others altogether. Roberta Cooks, developer of "Journey" and one of the developers of Secrets of Aging, recognized this fact. "For this exhibit," she says, "we needed something that would hold people. We needed something strong, a piece where people could linger on the emotional impact of the experience of aging."
The answer took the form of a compelling and innovative video that combined life stories told by older adults with interpretive dance and music. And because of Liz Lerman's considerable experience working with the elder community, The Dance Exchange played an integral role in this effort. "In fact," says Jan Crocker, project manager of Secrets of Aging, "they created the perfect climate for encouraging the sharing of life stories and the making of dance. The spirit of collaboration truly defined this innovative project between a science museum and a dance company."
In October 1999, a group of older adults from around the country, a team from the Secrets of Aging exhibition, professional dancers of the Liz Lerman Dance Exchange, and video and sound technicians from the Washington, D.C. area gathered at the Dance Exchange's studios in Takoma Park, Maryland. The goal was to conduct interviews with the older adults and record their life stories, choreograph dances based on those stories, rehearse the dances and then film them. It all took place in four days.
Four of the older dancers who participated in the "Journey with Me" project were members of the Liz Lerman Dance Exchange. The rest were non-professionals: They had all participated in Liz Lerman workshops in their own communities in the past and were invited to come to the studio be part of this project.
"There are Pearls Inside"
The dancers did a lot during those four days. Dorothy Crawford, producer of "Journey with Me," remembers the intense experience. "You had one room where interviews were going on, one room where rehearsals were going on, and one room with classes going on," she says.
Prior to each interview, one of the professional dancers from the company would pair off with an interviewee. The dancer would sit in on the interview, then adjourn to the next studio to choreograph and rehearse the dance. "It was amazing to see some of the older dancers move in the way they were moving. I was really energized by it," says Crawford. "We loved all the people. Their stories...you open up these shells and there are pearls inside."
Everyone Took the Risk
The video editing work, very much a group process, was completed over several months. The team made the decision to intercut the interviews with the dances. "The cutting back and forth is really uncanny, because there's a dialogue between the body and the words, between the person as storyteller and the person as dancer," says Roberta Cooks.
The finished piece would help bridge the mind and body aspects of aging and connect the disciplines of science, social science, the humanities and the arts. "This was a real experiment in terms of a science museum exhibit and also in terms of choreography," says Jan Crocker. "Everyone took the risk."
But the risk was worth it. "Secrets of Aging was going to be a different kind of exhibit, an exhibit about people," says Cooks. "And people are generally afraid of aging. It's not a subject they always want to face. 'Journey with Me' faces it, but in a strong, positive way. I feel like it was a great privilege to be able to work on this project and make it happen. It's one of the best experiences I've ever had working on a museum exhibit."
View an excerpt from the "Journey with Me" video with Bea Wattenberg and Associate Artistic Director Peter DiMuiro*
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