In choreographer Liz Lerman's view, no one is too old or too young to dance; no profession or calling is excluded. For more than 25 years, Lerman has used her innovative art to build community and encourage insight and healing. Her remarkable Dance Exchange has brought new vision to towns and cities across America, through participatory events that move all kinds of people - from shipyard workers to museum tour guides - to dance.
Tom Nangle, photographer
The Washington DC-based Liz Lerman Dance Exchange builds audiences by inviting people of all ages and backgrounds to explore their own creative energy through dance movement.
This is where dance should be going in the new millennium.
-- Liz Lerman, founder, Liz Lerman Dance Exchange
Of Matzah, Museums and Motion
When many performers use the stage to distance themselves both physically and emotionally from their audiences, Liz Lerman and her remarkable company, Dance Exchange, have invited us all to join them onstage...to revel in the magic of creative expression and discover something new about ourselves and others. No one is too old or too young to dance in Lerman's view; no profession or calling is excluded.
For more than a quarter century, Lerman has been using her innovative art to build community and encourage personal insight and healing. She and her renowned company have brought their special vision to diverse towns and cities from Los Angeles to Lewiston, Maine to Gdansk, Poland. In the process, they have developed local performances and participatory events that move all kinds of people - from shipyard workers to museum tour guides - to dance.
For example, at the Skirball Cultural Center in Los Angeles, Dance Exchange professionals performed side by side with docents and volunteers as they interpreted an exhibition titled, "History of Matzah: The Story of the Jews." At the Boston Museum of Science,
a video put a personal face on the "Secrets of Aging" by interweaving life stories with dance pieces based on those stories - all performed by older adults.
And in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, a two-year residency culminated in
a festival and world-class performance at the city's 200-year-old naval shipyard - all exploring the shipyard's powerful influence on the area's history, politics and culture. Today, the project is widely regarded as a national model for community-oriented artistic engagement.
Lerman's past efforts have served as the prelude for an unprecedented Millennium-inspired community residency initiative now being undertaken by the Dance Exchange. Between 2000 and 2002, the Hallelujah project is staging a series of evening-length performances that bring the company
onstage with people from a variety of host communities from coast to coast.
Embracing dance, music and the spoken word, the project combines existing material with new pieces that address issues and experiences of particular importance to each community. It is, says the company, a celebration of the beauty, strength, and quirkiness of edge-of-the-millennium America. As such, it features a series of evolving dances entitled "In Praise Of..." covering topics that range from serious to silly. Also on the horizon are an interactive Web site and a Dance Exchange "toolbox" that offers instructions on community-building and the creative arts.
Tom Nangle, photographer
In Praise Of...Building Community
One of the few contemporary dance companies to boast its own facility, the Dance Exchange builds bridges in a way few organizations can. "Even in my earliest days I talked about using dance as a way to build community,"
says Lerman. "People work on their own voices. Then they share those voices with others...They are so moved and upheld by the opportunity to do that. You can see how hungry they are for the experience." Ultimately those voices become woven into a larger piece. For Lerman and her company, that piece, in the form of Hallelujah, will ultimately stretch from one end of America to the other.
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