Famed choreographer debuts dance at Green Music Center
Over a long career, choreographer Liz Lerman has worked out her own way of creating new dance performance pieces. Rather than simply working alone with dancers in a studio, she wants lots of input from all directions.
“I’ve been very interested in finding different ways of connecting with people,” Lerman, 74, said from her home in Tempe, Arizona. “The relationship between the people present at the performance and the performers is extremely important.”
Lerman’s new evening-length dance-theater piece, “Wicked Bodies (Sonoma,)” will have its world premiere Thursday, April 14, in Green Music Center’s Weill Hall on the Sonoma State University campus in Rohnert Park.
The choreographer has reached out to local students, faculty and community members over the past two and a half years to get their thoughts and feelings about the work.
“She has been here half a dozen times, and other folks from her dance company have visited with us online,” said Jacob Yarrow, executive director of the Green Music Center.
For the premiere performance, Lerman’s current core group of eight professional dancers will be supplemented by a dozen more performers from the university and the community, mostly students and faculty members.
The Green Music Center presented Lerman’s first work-in-progress performance in October 2019. This latest presentation offers the audience excerpts from that piece, as well as Lerman’s commentary on the creation process.
In November 2020, to accommodate pandemic restrictions, “Wicked Bodies (Sonoma)” was presented online as part of The Green Room, a virtual series of performances and conversations with artists.
The Green Music Center project is backed by a $150,000 grant from the Hewlett Foundation 50 Arts Commission, with an additional $15,000 from the New England Foundation for the Arts’ National Dance Project.
“This is an important work by one of the most influential artists in dance of her generation,” Yarrow said. “We’re thrilled to have this project premiere here and to have students and community members involved.”
The choreographer founded the Liz Lerman Dance Exchange in 1976 and led the company’s multigenerational ensemble until July 2011. Under her leadership, Dance Exchange appeared across the U.S, including performances at the Kennedy Center Opera House and Harvard University.
“The company was made up of people ranging in age from their 20s to their 80s,” Lerman recalled. “We toured everywhere.”
Now she continues with her own new group of dancers. The new piece, which combines dance with some spoken interludes and narration, is designed specifically for presentation in Weill Hall. It deals with the persecution of witches by King James I of England (and IV of Scotland) in the 1590s.
Lerman finds irony in the fact that the same king was the force behind the English translation of the Christian Bible for the Church of England, commissioned in 1604 and published in 1611.
“King James was responsible for the torture and death of thousands. History has been so terrible to a lot of people,” Lerman said. “Every culture has witches, and every period of history does, too. In this piece, the audience gets a little bit of history on the European persecution of witches.”
Dancers interpret the stories of individual witches from that period, interpretations developed during the long rehearsal process to illustrate themes as well.
“The character I play is the witch of the past, present and future,” said dancer Ruby Morales, based in Glendale, Arizona. “The relationship with people present for the performance will be extremely interesting.”
For modern audiences, Lerman hopes to provide some insight and provoke thought about how societies treat people who are different.
After the premiere at the Green Music Center, the piece will be performed elsewhere, including at Arizona State University, Yerba Buena Center in San Francisco and the Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival in Becket, Massachusetts.
The audience at Green Music Center will get the earliest look at the new piece, after years of preparation.
“We’ve been in creation mode the whole time,” Lerman said. “Sonoma State University is going to be the first time we perform it.”
You can reach Staff Writer Dan Taylor at firstname.lastname@example.org or 707-521-5243. On Twitter @danarts.
Arts & Entertainment, The Press Democrat
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