Liz Lerman: Breaking Rules/Making Rules: Art in a Democratic Society

AndriaMatthews.jpgBy ANDRIA MATTHEWS
Community Programs Manager

Watching Liz Lerman speak to New Haven on June 19 was a proud moment for me. For months I had had the privilege of supporting her and the Dance Exchange in creating 613 Radical Acts of Prayer. There were many car rides, walks through town from meeting to workshop to rehearsal, endless to-do lists, emails to write and calls to make.

But, on this night, Liz made me step back. She put into perspective why I had become so passionate about this project through a simple explanation of a philosophy underpinning her work. She accompanied the explanation with a descriptive movement. This is a tool of hers: taking an idea and embodying it.

She described a common assumption: that performing on stage at the Kennedy Center is typically considered hugely important in the professional art world, while creating a dance in an elderly home was often dismissed. With her hands she demonstrated this. The performance at the Kennedy Center, symbolized by her left hand, was placed on top. Working with the elderly, symbolized by her right hand, was placed on the bottom.

She then flipped her hands, demonstrating another view of the world where art made in the community trumped art performed on stage.

But, she quickly urged the audience to step away from this notion as well. Pulling her hands side-by-side she called us to stop viewing these distinctions in a hierarchy, but rather as a spectrum, no longer valuing the importance of one over the other, but appreciating the value in each one and everything on the journey in between. She then pulled her arms into a circle, demonstrating the ends of each spectrum not being so far apart from each other.

This image still remains in my mind. And, after the talk was over, I saw audience members mimicking Liz's movement. A woman struggling to express to me what it was about the talk that resonated with her chose instead to simply move her hands, left above right, right above left. She then stretched her arms wide, as if in an immense embrace.