She brought dance to shipyards and streetcorners, incorporating people of all ages and skill levels into her unorthodox performances, which helped many see the world around them differently. We talk about what’s next as Liz Lerman steps down from the dance company she founded nearly forty years ago and moves on to new projects.


  • Liz Lerman Founder and Artistic Director, Liz Lerman Dance Exchange
  • Sarah Kaufman Dance Critic for the Washington Post

Related Video

Liz Lerman Dance Exchange performs in Ferocious Beauty: Genome at The Mayo Clinic on 11/09/06, demonstating all-abilities dance in a performance setting:


  • 13:22:58

    MR. KOJO NNAMDIChoreographing a construction site, a dance about the federal budget, elderly and wheelchair bound performers, a performance in a shipyard, a show that merges movement and the human genome project. It's hard to know how to describe a body of work that's so thoroughly blurs the lines between performance, politics and social commentary. The Dance Exchange has been creating visionary projects for nearly four decades.

  • 13:23:24

    MR. KOJO NNAMDIWe talk with the woman at the heart of the company about her work and about what's next. Liz Lerman is the founding artistic director of the Dance Exchange. She is stepping down as of tomorrow to pursue independent projects as a choreographer and artist. You may remember, she won a MacArthur Genius Grant in 2002. Her collection of essays was recently published, it's called "Hiking the Horizontal: Field Notes from a Choreographer.

  • 13:23:52

    MR. KOJO NNAMDILiz Lerman joins us in studio. So good to see you again.

  • 13:23:55

    MS. LIZ LERMANOh, it's so nice to be here, Kojo, thank you.

  • 13:23:57

    NNAMDIGlad you could join us. We have someone else to join us in the first part of this discussion anyway. Sarah Kaufman joins us by telephone. Sarah Kaufman is a Pulitzer Prize winning dance critic for The Washington Post. Sarah Kaufman, thank you so much for joining us.

  • 13:24:10

    MS. SARAH KAUFMANHi, Kojo. Hi, Liz.

  • 13:24:12

    LERMANHi, Sarah.

  • 13:24:12

    NNAMDISarah, I'll start with you. As the nation's capital, the dance scene in the district is a little different than other places. How would you characterize it? Sarah?

  • 13:24:23

    KAUFMANOh, is that...

  • 13:24:24

    NNAMDIThat was for you.

  • 13:24:25

    KAUFMANHow would I characterize it? Well, I, you know, it's a, kind of, a small dance community but it's -- the audiences are very eager and very open to a lot of different expressions. And I think that Liz has, in her career, has really embodied that and enlarged our notion of what dance is. And this has been a great place for her to do that because they're such an educated audience here that's open to her ideas. I mean, she really is a choreographer of ideas.

  • 13:25:04

    KAUFMANAnd I think that's one reason she's thrived here in Washington.

  • 13:25:07

    NNAMDILiz, take us back to the 1970s, what was D.C.'s dance scene like when you first arrived here?

  • 13:25:12

    LERMANWell, you know, the thing about Washington, is just, in the '70s, was -- there was just so much crossover between the different art forms. It was a smaller community and, I think, quite experimental. The Washington project for the Arts and W -- and the Washington Performing Arts Society, they were all busy forming these wild festivals. So part of what made it so exciting was just that we were brushing up against each other so nicely. The dance community itself, at that time, small.

  • 13:25:37

    NNAMDIWhy did you choose to come here to start your dance company rather than, say, New York?

  • 13:25:42

    LERMANWell, I had been in New York and I realized that was not a good place for me. Because, and this will sound counterintuitive, but I really wanted to experiment. And I didn't think I could experiment in New York because the rules were too written down already or too -- somehow, there were certain ways you had to be. Whereas Washington was like a frontier town, in a way. You know, you could break every rule you wanted to. And Sarah's right...

  • 13:26:03

    NNAMDIAnd you did.

  • 13:26:04

    LERMAN...and Sarah's right, the audience was fantastic.

  • 13:26:06

    NNAMDI800-433-8850 is our number here if you'd like to join this conversation. Do you have any questions for Liz Lerman, 800-433-8850? Are you a fan of modern dance? What do you or don't you like about it? You can also go to our website, join the conversation there. Sarah Kaufman, the Dance Exchange was a pioneer in many ways. What were some of the features and practices that were new to the dance world?

  • 13:26:33

    KAUFMANWell, you know, Liz is kind of the eternal flower child. She brought in -- I think her -- you know, if I can accurately encapsulate it, I think, her big thing has been breaking down boundaries. And she brought in old people, she brought in, you know, dance -- you know, less than full able bodied dancers. She's put all kinds of people from the full spectrum of humanity on the stage. And she has said, these are dancers, they're allowed to dance, dance is big. My view is large and it encompasses all of humanity.

  • 13:27:17

    KAUFMANAnd what her notion was, was a very expanded concept of beauty, unconventional beauty. So, I think, those things were pioneering to bring old people onto the stage with people we conventionally think of as dancers, you know, young and fit and beautiful and, you know, muscular. You know, she introduced wisdom and, kind of, a warmth and poignancy and a, kind of, a special tension with using old people and young people.

  • 13:27:56

    KAUFMANAnd that was -- that has continued to be a very fruitful avenue of creativity for her. So, I think, that was really one of her most striking innovations. She also had her dancers speaking. So they don't just dance, they talk. She's a wonderful writer and, I think, some of text that her dancers spoke on stage were -- was really constituted a wonderful part of her -- the experience.

  • 13:28:22

    NNAMDII'm glad you brought that up. Because, Liz, you use text and narration frequently in your work. What can they express that can't be expressed by dance alone? Why did you want to merge the two?

  • 13:28:33

    LERMANWell, first, Sarah, thank you. That was a lovely encapsulation but I think the thing about text and movement is that I'm interested in -- you're right about breaking boundaries. Some of the boundaries we have is, for example, you're going to get your information in one place and you're going to get your feelings in another place. I'm interested in not -- that not being the case. I want the two to live side by side which I think is much more truthful. I don't think that life is like that, life there together.

  • 13:28:58

    LERMANSo I found, if you use certain kind of texts, that could convey information that dance could never convey. But meanwhile, the dance is taking care of some other ways we might contextualize or feel it. And I think that took audiences to a new place.

  • 13:29:12

    NNAMDIIn case you're just joining us, we're talking with Liz Lerman. She's the founding artistic director of the Dance Exchange who will be stepping down, starting tomorrow to pursue independent projects as a choreographer and artist. We're taking your calls at 800-433-8850. You can send email to, a tweet at kojoshow or simply go to our website to join the conversation, that's

  • 13:29:35

    NNAMDIWe're also talking with Sarah Kaufman. She's a Pulitzer Prize winning dance critic for The Washington Post. Sarah, you went to one performance of the Dance Exchange that wasn't here in Washington, a lot of them aren't. That performance in Chicago merged politics in dance. Can you tell us a little bit about that?

  • 13:29:53

    KAUFMANYes, that was, really, one of the earliest pieces I saw of her, it was in the mid 1980s. I was in school in Chicago and the Liz Lerman Dance Exchange came to perform. And this was a piece that -- where the dancers recited Congressional testimony on safeguarding nuclear waste. And how it has to be, you know, protected and safeguarded for hundreds of thousands of years. And it was done -- it was a dance that addressed that thorny issue of, how will we do this as humans?

  • 13:30:30

    KAUFMANAnd it did it in a very subtle, lightly, ironic way that just made its points about the difficulty of this notion of keeping us safe and is nuclear power a good thing, without hitting you over the head with a lesson or a, you know, dogmatic approach. It did it in a -- in her blend of humor and smarts and wit.

  • 13:31:00

    NNAMDIWhat were you trying to accomplish with that performance, Liz?

  • 13:31:04

    LERMANWell, it was a real document and it was -- I'm talking about, it's actually very contemporary because the issue's still going on right now about the problem of, if we're not going to be speaking English in 10,000 years and it takes 10,000 years for this -- for the nuclear waste to detoxify, how are we going to warn future generations? This was a huge government report about it. So we decided to take -- one thing the government suggested in the report was that you could keep people away through myth.

  • 13:31:28

    LERMANSo we decided to create the myth for the government, that they could actually use. But, of course, it was also -- I wanted people just to actually think about the dilemma. And in a way, when we think about, now, the issues around our earth, it's really -- we're not just going to make sacrifices for our children. You know, we have to be thinking about our decedents that are many generations from us. And how do you build that and to people, make them want to commit to making those sacrifices?

  • 13:31:55

    LERMANWell, I think, you need to feel, you can't just think.

  • 13:31:58

    NNAMDISarah, D.C.'s attracting a lot of young people these days and there are more top restaurants, a growing artistic scene. But you think that that's not necessarily translating to the dance world.

  • 13:32:10

    KAUFMANWell, dance is under enormous stress given the nature of the economy right now. As all the performing arts are, dance has never been -- it has never been a richly funded art form. And, you know, in these days, the funding is plummeting. So it is a bit of a -- it's a struggling art form, I feel. I think, you know, maybe Liz can speak to that as the leader of a company over several decades but I think that may be part of the reason why the Dance Exchange is downsizing a little bit.

  • 13:32:49

    NNAMDILiz Lerman.

  • 13:32:50

    LERMANWell, I think, one -- you're absolutely right that there's never been a lot of funding for any of the arts and certainly...

  • 13:32:57

    NNAMDII was about to say, when was it not a struggling art form.

  • 13:32:59

    LERMAN...certainly not for dance. But, I think, as we make clear the incredible importance that art plays in the world and in -- if you really get into the hands of people and people understand how powerful it is, I do think you can get support. The art -- the wonderful artist taking over the Dance Exchange, one of the first projects is called "How to Lose a Mountain" and Cassie Meador, the woman who is choreographing and directing it, is doing a 500 mile walk from her house in Tacoma Park to the mountain top (word?) in West Virginia that powers her house.

  • 13:33:30

    LERMANBut here's the key, it's -- and she'll be making dance online and for the stage she'll be teaching dance along the way, collecting stories. But her partners are the Forest Department, the Audubon Society, the Girl Scouts, James Madison University. So what you see, one economic model, is partnerships, partnerships, partnerships. It's very demanding. It takes a lot of time. But a hope is that what comes out of that is a bigger investment in the future of the arts.

  • 13:33:59

    NNAMDISarah, we all remember the recent incident of people dancing at the Jefferson Memorial and you wrote the Jefferson Love Dance and while, of course, we don't know for sure, but he might have welcomed dancing on the memorial, you think?

  • 13:34:16

    KAUFMANOh, yeah. I do think. You know, who but Thomas Jefferson welcomed independence, you know. I mean, being independent. Also as part of that piece that I wrote, that you referred to, he gave us the Louisiana Purchase which gave us New Orleans, which gave us its own incredibly combustible and ebullient dance culture at that time. You know, where -- I mean, that was just a cauldron of dance forms that have since migrated out throughout the country.

  • 13:34:46

    KAUFMANSo, you know, it's hard to believe that he would have backed a shut down such as what happened. You know, dance is a human expression, it's old, it's beautiful, it's natural and you know, lets toast it.

  • 13:35:06

    KAUFMANI, you know, Sarah, I just love that article that you wrote and I've loved these articles that you're writing now. You too are broadening what we think about -- you know, my favorite one was the one you wrote about the soldiers doing the dance on YouTube.

  • 13:35:18


  • 13:35:18

    LERMANAnd I just thought, that was incredible. Talk about redefining beauty and how you help people see that.

  • 13:35:24

    NNAMDISarah Kaufman, thank you so much for joining us.

  • 13:35:26

    KAUFMANThank you.

  • 13:35:27

    NNAMDISarah Kaufman...

  • 13:35:27

    KAUFMANAnd good luck to you, Liz.

  • 13:35:28

    LERMANThanks, Sarah, you too.

  • 13:35:29

    NNAMDISarah Kaufman is a Pulitzer Prize winning dance critic for The Washington Post. We're talking with Liz Lerman, founding artistic director of the Dance Exchange who's stepping down as of tomorrow to pursue independent projects as a choreographer and artist. Speaking of Choreography and art, we got an email from Mark who says, "I'm a first time filmmaker making a short film about dancing called, With One Shoe Nailed to the Floor. Does Ms. Lerman have any advice for someone working with choreographers and dances for the first time?"

  • 13:36:00


  • 13:36:00

    NNAMDIFirst, get a great name for your project. That sounds like one.

  • 13:36:03

    LERMANYes, I'm already imagining what it looks like. Sounds pretty great. I mean, you know, the thing I think about and it's going to sound contradictory because you have to hold at least two ideas in your head at the same time. And one is, of course, to ask the people you're dancing with, what do you love? What inspires you? What moves you? Let them make the moves, follow that. And, of course, the other is for you to have your own ideas and to be sending them directions and trying to push them into new ways that they may be haven't though.

  • 13:36:29

    NNAMDIYou've said that you feel art is so important that you everyone should experience it. How does that fit into your work?

  • 13:36:36

    LERMANWell, I wish it didn't have to fit into my work. I wish it was just true and that we didn't have to keep explaining the value of something that is so -- to me, so essential. It -- I think, one way it fits into my work has been that, it's not just showing people the dance, it's not just saying, gee, I want to get people who never see dance to come to the concerts.

  • 13:36:58

    LERMANIt's more about getting people to try it, to do it. And whether that's writing or, you know, making films or -- and this is one of the things I actually love about the new technologies is how creative I think people are finding themselves. I love that. But I want people to see that when they throw themselves into their imagination, discipline it a little bit, that they may discover things about themselves and their world that make it better to get up every day. And also make it better for them to take action.

  • 13:37:29

    NNAMDII'm glad you said that because my next question is that, you've had bankers and you've had construction workers dance. And I was going to ask you, what surprised you about having people without dance training perform but first I'll turn that around and say, what did you found (sic) that surprised them about performing?

  • 13:37:48

    LERMANI think that people find themselves, sounds funny, elevated. They think -- I think some of them would almost speak of it as spiritual by which the mysteries of it all. Because -- and I still believe in the mystery of art. I mean, I'm very articulate about teaching people how to do things and I can take people step by step by step into something so they can make something. And it's still a mystery to me that actually, it occurs, it comes out, something beautiful emerges.

  • 13:38:20

    LERMANI think, people find that amazing. And they feel themselves connected to, maybe, a thought or a point of view that they didn't have before or maybe to their neighbor or maybe to the person next to them. Because, again, in our world, there's touch, there's -- you know, I have to learn your step, you have to learn my step. And suddenly there's -- it's not just empathy, it's something much deeper.

  • 13:38:43

    NNAMDII'm glad you mentioned spiritual because I have friends who attend Temple Micah and they talk a little bit about, when you talk about the relationship between movement and spirituality, obviously, you think that movement is, to some extent, spiritual?

  • 13:38:56

    LERMANI do. I do and maybe I'm using that word to speak to the, you know, the immeasurable that immerges from artistic practice. But, what I see at Temple Micah and other spiritual centers I visited is that, the prayers start to mean something different when people use their bodies in relationship to them.

  • 13:39:16

    NNAMDIOn to the telephones, here now is Mary in Gaithersburg, Md. Mary, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.

  • 13:39:23

    MARYHi, thank you so much for taking my call. I just had to call in because I have a son who is -- has had special needs since he was born and he started dancing in the 9th grade. And it has completely changed his life, our life, our community and, you know, the dance community has given us so much.

  • 13:39:55

    LERMANI'm so...

  • 13:39:56

    MARYI'm so grateful. I'm very grateful.

  • 13:39:58

    NNAMDIMary, I -- Mary, I…

  • 13:40:01

    MARYAnd I'm so glad that Liz is there because I can -- I understand what she's saying. I see the elevation. I see the spiritual growth, and the hope that it brings to people, and the joy. And I have a son who's getting ready to leave for college, and he got a dance scholarship, and he's got purpose. He has community, he has focus, and it's been a gift.

  • 13:40:27

    LERMANYeah. Well, what -- first, Mary, that's fantastic. That's a wonderful story, and you said it all in those last few words. He has a community, and he has focus. The thing I -- this is again, this idea of holding two ideas in your head at the same time. Dance is all of the spiritual and immeasurable, but it's also discipline, discipline, discipline, discipline. And when you put those things together, and you see that they relate to each other, I mean, it's incredible.

  • 13:40:53

    NNAMDIMary, thank you so much for your call. If you have already called, stay on the line. We will get to your call. We've got to take a short break, but we know you're anxious to talk with Liz, so hold on the line. Or if the lines are busy, go to our website,, send us a tweet @kojoshow, or email to I'm Kojo Nnamdi.

  • 13:42:58

    NNAMDIWelcome back. We're talking with Liz Lerman. She's the founding artistic director of the Dance Exchange, stepping down, starting tomorrow, to pursue independent projects. Her collection of essays was recently published. It's called, "Hiking the Horizontal: Field Notes From a Choreographer." Liz Lerman, in introducing this segment, I used the term elderly and wheelchair-bound performers.

  • 13:43:20

    NNAMDIWe got an email from Ann in Chevy Chase who says, "Please ask your guest if she uses the term wheelchair-bound, and if not, why she might opt for the more positive, more active, more freedom-reflecting term wheelchair user, that is preferred by those who use wheelchairs.

  • 13:43:39

    LERMANOh, our language is so interesting, isn't it?

  • 13:43:42

    NNAMDIIt is.

  • 13:43:43

    LERMANAs we come to try to understand the various truths, because depending on any given day, I myself am not in a wheelchair. I have worked with people who use wheelchairs. On any given day a person might be bound, might be free. It may not always be a user even. So I really appreciate the caller's question because, you know, in some ways, it requires a daily examination. How shall I use the word today? Same with this word, elderly.

  • 13:44:11

    LERMANYou know, I just always talked about the old people because that's -- and I know that -- I mean, I always said it with deep love. Of course, now, I am one and it's interesting, but I think it's more, you know, the way we treat each other and, of course, our language is part of that.

  • 13:44:26

    NNAMDIHow do you begin to show someone with no formal training how to move?

  • 13:44:32

    LERMANWell, sometimes it's not me showing them. Sometimes it's the other way around. For example, just now, Kojo, as you were speaking to me, you know, you moved forward in your chair. You had your hands -- you know, you're holding a pencil, but then you opened your hands out and it caused your chest to open and your arms came -- and I might say, well, let's start there.

  • 13:44:48

    LERMANJust because that's the movement that you did as you were talking to me. And that's, of course, something --when human beings want to express something, they will use their bodies, and I'm interested in that movement. But frequently, last -- I'm doing a project right now with classically trained, very highly trained classical musicians trying to get them to move. And it's -- not move as they normally move when they play but to actually get them moving around the stage while they're playing.

  • 13:45:14

    LERMANAnd in that case, you know, it's a back and forth. But I just showed somebody last night, she's a harpist and she has to get to her harp and she's rolling towards her harp, sitting up and then coming to it, and it's actually just beautiful to see her do that.

  • 13:45:27

    NNAMDIYou have taught what you call old people, now what you call us, to dance from the beginning of your career, and your company includes old and young dancers. But you don't see old dancers as a new idea.

  • 13:45:40

    LERMANNo. And this is the funniest thing to me. I'm -- you know, when people say you were the first one, I always have to say, no, no, no, no, no. Old -- old people have been dancing since we danced, which is how many thousands of years. I like to think that if, you know, if you're having a rain dance and you want to be sure it rains, you may actually ask the wisest person in the village to do the dancing for you if you really want that rain to come. So I -- no. I think it's more our own conventions.

  • 13:46:07

    NNAMDIWhat's the age range of dancers in your company?

  • 13:46:10

    LERMANRight now early 20s to late 70s. But that's people who are regularly in the company. But in terms of people we work with out in the community, it could be all ages.

  • 13:46:20

    NNAMDIOnto the telephones. Here is Mae in Chevy Chase, Md. Mae, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.

  • 13:46:26


  • 13:46:29

    NNAMDIGo ahead, Mae, you're on the air.

  • 13:46:31

    MAEHi Liz. It's Mae -- Mae Kessler (sp?)

  • 13:46:33

    LERMANHi Mae.

  • 13:46:35

    MAEHi, how are you?

  • 13:46:36


  • 13:46:37

    MAEI took class with Liz, oh, maybe it was 15 years ago at American University, and I just -- I was just so delighted to hear that she's on the show day because I wanted to share what ended up happening with a piece that I created at AU with the workshop that we did. And it was about my father's story about how he survived the Holocaust.

  • 13:46:58


  • 13:46:59

    MAEAnd so he ended up writing his book, and it got published last year. So this year I put it together and I expanded the piece that we did, and we ended up using -- in terms of people, we ended up using everyone from my 12-year-old daughter's friends, to my husband who is a total non-dancer, including my dad who's 86 and is, you know, legally blind, in the piece, and we did it at our Synagogue. And it was really, really wonderful, and just so moving. And I just wanted to share, I mean, that's where it ended up being, and it's was just a wonderful event.

  • 13:47:35

    NNAMDIObviously you had some inspiration from one Liz Lerman. Mae, thank you so much for your call. You know who Mae is, of course. A lot of your work is political. You said you used dance to understand things. How do you translate for example the federal budget into a performance?

  • 13:47:54

    LERMANWell, the first time I tried that was my own attempt to try to understand the defense budget, and I made a work called "Nine Short Dances About the Defense Budget and Other Military Matters." And it really was an attempt to understand, and it began with the problem of just trying to understand what a billion is, because just what did that account for.

  • 13:48:12

    LERMANSo as I mentioned earlier, I don't always make the dance do all the work. So in that particular case, we ended up making a song about what you could buy for a billion dollars, and it included some little defense department objects. But over time, I find that there -- we've sort of developed a whole a bunch of ways of translating. So you might think sometimes it's almost like a charade, but mostly not. Mostly, it's layering things side by side so that people get the whole notion.

  • 13:48:45

    NNAMDITwo of your recent works examine scientific concepts, "Ferocious Beauty" and its sequel, "The Matter of Origins," about which I interviewed you at the University of Maryland. I'd like to talk first about "Ferocious Beauty." Can you tell us a little bit about the idea behind that?

  • 13:48:58

    LERMANWell, this is a piece about genetics, and this is one of those examples where, you know, sometimes you got a commission, somebody calls you and says make something about this. And if you're lucky, you get interested and you follow it. But in this particular case, I was asked to help at -- it was the Henry Art Gallery, which is actually our museum in Seattle.

  • 13:49:15

    LERMANThey were doing an exhibit on bio art, which uses actual genetic material in the art. And apparently the public in Seattle were pretty upset about it. They asked me come out do some interactive stuff with the public, which I love doing, and I love the controversy of it, because it means people are riled up enough to actually care. And -- but I told them over the phone, I said, I'd love to come, but I don't know anything about genetics. And so they overnight-ed me...

  • 13:49:35

    NNAMDIThis was about genetic engineering?

  • 13:49:37

    LERMANI knew, I mean, I knew Gregor Mendel, that's what I know. But I'd like to say they overnight-ed me five pounds of genetics, because they just sent me this pile of stuff. And when I began to read it, I also got upset, and I decided I should know something about genetics. So I started researching and talking to scientists everywhere. And what I came to understand actually is it's not all scary. In fact, a lot of it is quite beautiful and quite amazing. And it's just a wonderful thing to be thinking about. And yes, some of it's scary, like all knowledge is scary.

  • 13:50:09

    NNAMDIWell, there are some remarkable performances in "Ferocious Beauty." I've been looking at it on YouTube by people who walk with braces, or people who are wheelchair users. People who would not -- we would not ordinarily see on stage in a dance performance, you made them the stars of this piece. What was your point?

  • 13:50:27

    LERMANWell, finally in the first act in this piece, I spend a lot of time giving the audience an opportunity to reflect on how art and science are like each other, how artists and scientists think and feel about things because that I think is really, really interesting. And also, giving people information so that they could follow me in the second act when we talked about a few -- we told a few stories. One about aging, like how old do we really want to get, and what are we going do about that?

  • 13:50:53

    LERMANThe second, about perfection. If we are able to perfect ourselves through genetics -- genetic engineering, through any number of things, we might do that in early stages of when people are in embryos. I'm not saying we can do that now, but if we could what would happen? And in that particular story, I worked with an incredible woman named Suzie Richard (sp?), who herself has a genetic disorder.

  • 13:51:19

    LERMANAnd what was interesting in working with Suzie is that she runs a theater company here and she basically sees herself absolutely as part of the world. She doesn't ask people to think about what is going on with her body. But when I came to her, I said, Suzie, this is what it's going to be about. It is all about the fact that you have this genetic disorder. And she agreed to join us, and she changed everything. I think she changed it for the audience, too.

  • 13:51:45

    LERMANIt's just incredibly beautiful. But when you see her, you learn -- we don't ever -- we're really telling the story through the diversity of apples, but you see her. It's -- I think it brings people right up to the question.

  • 13:51:58

    NNAMDIWhat would we do without people like her? "The Matter of Origins" places text from Genesis and the Big Bang Theory side by side provoking the audience to think about larger theoretical and spiritual questions. That was a huge undertaking for you.

  • 13:52:14

    LERMANIt was a big piece. It was as big piece, but, you know, I like to think about it this way, that I think these questions about where we come from, you know, I -- I know we think they're big, but actually I think they're enduring. I don't know that they're big as much as they're the things that we think about all that -- some of us, you know, since we were little, and they're worth looking at every now and then. The particular moment you mention, though, is one of my favorites because I think it was a challenge.

  • 13:52:41

    LERMANIt's a challenge for religious people and for the scientists both in the same moment. And I want that to happen because you're seeing this gorgeous, gorgeous video of the cavern in (word?) where they're smashing the particles to really discover the beginnings. And when you are watching that, you're hearing about how Raven began the earth, and you're also hearing the Hebrew from Genesis.

  • 13:53:05

    LERMANAnd to me, the actual scientific object looks like a raven, and asks us to think about, well, who's the scientist here?

  • 13:53:15

    NNAMDIHere's Lauren in Gaithersburg, Md. Hi, Lauren.

  • 13:53:18

    LAURENHi there.

  • 13:53:19

    NNAMDIGo right ahead, please.

  • 13:53:22

    LAURENI just -- I'm an art therapist. I'm actually in my second career now. My first career was in theater design, and all through my work in the arts, I've just been always interested in integrating real life into -- in with art and kind of bridging that gap that a lot of people think that arts have to be so separate and not part of everyday life. And in working with a lot of kids and that, one of the things that I do is really try to impart the idea that not only visual art, but all arts are another language.

  • 13:53:54

    LAURENAnd I'm just so taken with what I'm hearing Liz talk about, that that's really a lot of the philosophy that she's embracing in her choreography, and her work with dancers. And even the concept, who is a dancer? Anybody's a dancer. Just like anybody's an artist. And I've often run into kids, who, by the time they're in second grade, no long even think of themselves as artists anymore. So it's just refreshing to hear her approach to dance.

  • 13:54:21

    NNAMDIThank you so much for your call, Lauren.

  • 13:54:23

    LERMANYou know, one reason I'm interested in and called the book, "Hiking the Horizontal" is that I -- this will be maybe the third time I've said that in this hour, that you hold two ideas in your head at the same time. So it is true that we are all creative. We have incredible ways of expressing ourselves, and that for too long perhaps art as a practice kept itself separate. But it is also true that the work of being an artist is not necessarily a cup of tea of every person.

  • 13:54:55

    LERMANSo although I think, yes, everybody should have access to these tools and be able to do it, I don't think actually everybody has the stomach, the capacity, the talent, the fundamental absolute hunger to live the life of an artist. I think that that is something a little bit different. But this idea of separation, this isn't just a problem for the arts. It's a problem for every profession -- every profession.

  • 13:55:20

    NNAMDIYou're headed to Harvard. You earned a fellowship for the fall semester to teach and work on your own projects. You've got a number of projects. Can you tell us a little bit about them?

  • 13:55:29

    LERMANYeah. I'm really excited. It's very nice. I'll just be at Harvard for a semester. I know some people in town have said, you're moving, you're moving, and I'm just going for a semester. I'm coming back. I'll be back. But I am. I'm doing a project with the woman who is artistic director of Urban Bush Women, Jawole Zollar, and we've been commissioned to do a piece about the relationship of Martin Luther King to Abraham Joshua Heschel.

  • 13:55:50


  • 13:55:51

    LERMANI know.

  • 13:55:52

    NNAMDII've heard about that, that's true.

  • 13:55:54

    LERMANAnd it's a very interesting relationship they had.

  • 13:55:56


  • 13:55:56

    LERMANAnd they were both, of course, incredibly radical for their times. They supported each other, but they were also -- they also stood up to their own communities. One of the moments I'm interested in their lives is when they both came out against the war, way ahead of what their own communities wanted from them. So Jawole and I are interested in spending this time together. We've known each other for years, but we've never made a piece together. So I'm really excited about that.

  • 13:56:20

    LERMANI'm doing some research, you know. Since we're all involved in the 150th anniversary of the Civil War, I, too, have been thinking about that. I'm looking at it from several perspectives. I'm not sure what dance is going to emerge, but I'm looking at the fact that it's the war where we had the most women soldiers dressed as men. At least 400 documented stories of that, and I'm curious about what happened to them. And I'm interested in the impact of war on medicine.

  • 13:56:43

    NNAMDIThings that Liz Lerman will be doing. We got this email from Ellen who's on a train to Philadelphia. "I'm so pleased that you're featuring Liz Lerman. I have the honor of being the immediate past chair of the Dance Exchange board of directors. I've always loved dance, but was used to the pretty picture type of dance performance. Liz has shown me that dance can be so much more than a passive visual experience. Every dance exchange performance engages the audience in some way, and leaves me totally transformed.

  • 13:57:10

    NNAMDII've learned from Liz to broaden my way of thinking and use my senses to experience life in a new way." You've said that your departure is an opportunity for all the dancers at Dance Exchange. Why?

  • 13:57:22

    LERMANYes. I really think, in fact, for people who love the Dance Exchange, my departure is a sign of hope for lots of reasons. One is, it's, you know, we have to -- this is what evolution teaches us. We know that things have to mutate and change. And it's time for these ideas. You know, what the -- the artists at Dance Exchange say they're composting me, which I think is just a fantastic idea.

  • 13:57:47

    NNAMDIThat's true.

  • 13:57:47

    LERMANThat they're taking, you know, what I hope is the best, or at least to them the best, most useful things that I've done there, and they're going to re-craft, redesign, repurpose, reuse, and do great work, whereas I get to step out into the world and I won't be carrying the same shape.

  • 13:58:03

    NNAMDILiz Lerman is the founding artistic director of the Dance Exchange, stepping down starting tomorrow to pursue independent projects as a choreographer and artist. Liz Lerman's collection of essays was recently published. It's called, "Hiking the Horizontal: Field Notes From a Choreographer." Liz Lerman, thank you so much for dropping by, and good luck.

  • 13:58:22

    LERMANThank you so much.

  • 13:58:23

    NNAMDIHey, she's not going away forever. It's just one semester. She'll be back. Thank you all for listening. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.

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