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Flash Review 1, 1-25: The Hallelujah Paradoxes
At the Altar of Dance with Liz Lerman

By Nicole Pope
Copyright 2002 Nicole Pope

NEW YORK -- Liz Lerman is a slippery character not to be placed under the defining thumb of any dance reviewer. At her fingertips, she has the ability to create single and multiple moments that encompass grace, humor, intelligence, beauty and a quirkiness that is completely unpredictable. Liz Lerman Dance Exchange's Thursday evening performance of "Hallelujah: In Praise of Fertile Fields" and "Uneasy Dances" at Danspace Project was whole and sound in halcyon and vivifying images, dialogue that was so appropriate, yet not defining of the dance; and a company of all shapes, sizes and ages, joined by each member's impressive movement capabilities and attention to the piece.

"Hallellujah" offered visions of the performers, costumed in white by Naoko Nagata, alone or frozen in moments with one another like marble sculptures in a pristine garden where movement and stillness came and went naturally and even existed simultaneously.

The piece was commissioned by the Jacob's Pillow Dance Festival in 2000 in order to search out what it means to cultivate the earth and the body. The dialogue transported the audience into the world of the cook at Jacob's Pillow in the 1940s, early in its history. Excerpts from her diary lead us through her daily work, the names of indigenous plant life, and certain events such as the blessing of the new stage on which there was to be "No tapping!" Accompanying this character were glimpses from Pillow founder Ted Shawn's works (such as the final magnificent leap and catch at the end of "Palonaise") and a section in which his notation of "Jacob's Ladder" is read aloud while an homage is rendered not as a solo, but as an engaging network of spasmodic solos. Potatoes became the dancers' connection to what was above their heads and below their feet, the reason for their celebrations and for their weeping. One performer, engrossed in tears of mourning, is startled from this state by a talking potato who tells him that beneath the earth, all potatoes are dreaming. By the end of the piece, a clump of potatoes served as a pillow to a dreaming man; as in the biblical story, a stone served as a pillow to Jacob while he envisioned angels and awoke to realize for the first time the beauty that surrounded him.

In her solo, "Body Map," Lerman asked the audience to "Pretend [her] body is a map of Israel." She and Israel celebrated their 50th birthdays within months of each other, in 1998. Lerman traced the routes of her neck and torso, drawing parallels to locations in Israel. She sniffed her armpit, exclaiming rather matter-of-factly, "Tel Aviv." The piece was brief and full, engaging and telling of where 50 years has taken Ms. Lerman in her experience of solo-making: Far -- very far. As much as I'm tempted to discuss it, I will not spoil the solo's ending for you. It would be like telling you about the delicious plum I ate from your icebox. It is too sweet and sour, and too true for me to water down with words of my own.

Evoking a game of ping-pong played underwater, "Anatomies and Epidemics" was graceful and fluid in its interaction between melancholy and laughter. Like "Hallelujah," it opened with scattered marble-like figures, this time clothed in variations of black ensembles. As these persons lingered in and outside of introspective unisons, duets and solos, the audience was told of a laughing epidemic started by the contagious giggle of one little girl; a giggle that then erupted into a roaring laughter among the dancers. Quirky leg flicks and hand stammers were mingled with a classical and graceful movement vocabulary. Supporting this sight was the humorous and bipolar sound score assembled by Andy Teirstein, who also performed live. How the piece transgressed from such an occasion of what was, at times, an outright chuckle-fest to an inanimate diagonal line of dancers sitting on black chairs motioning through the same quirky gestures, yet with a much different intention astounded me. The impulse was unforeseen, but among all of the evening's paradoxes, it made sense.

Liz Lerman Dance Exchange continues at Danspace Project through Sunday. For more information, please visit the Danspace Project web site.

 

Nicole Pope is currently studying Dance and Writing as a junior at Bennington College, where her teachers include Terry Creach. Dance Writing is one of her attempts at merging the two (go figure), which is why she is taking a short period of time to see as much dance as possible in New York and putting in her two cents on it.

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