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Last modified: Tuesday, November 4, 2008

"Ferocious Beauty" leads to innovative dance, in-depth discussions

Nov. 5, 2008

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- Always thought-provoking, the Liz Lerman Dance Exchange in the coming months will entertain and challenge from the proscenium stage -- IU Auditorium -- while also meeting the Bloomington and Indiana University communities at our own level, so to speak, through grant-funded workshops, a visiting artist residency, symposia and panel discussions.

Liz Lerman Dance Exchange

Liz Lerman Dance Exchange dancers performing "Ferocious Beauty: Genome," which will be presented at IU Auditorium on Feb. 26.

The ongoing dialogue, a hallmark of the Washington, D.C.-based dance company, will engage local dancers and non-dancers of all ages, as well as scientists -- and non-scientists -- and flesh out such weighty subjects as genetic engineering, evolution, energy and the very nature of dance and art. Many questions will be posed and discussed. Much dance will be created.

"The Dance Exchange asks: 'Who gets to dance? Where is dance happening? What is it about? Why does it matter?'" said Elizabeth Shea, coordinator of the IU Contemporary Dance Program in the School of Health, Physical Education and Recreation. "I wanted our dance majors and the community to see and experience an artist with this kind of approach; art doesn't always have to happen on a stage, and it can happen with people who have novel approaches to movement."

Local community members can participate in the process on Nov. 10 in a workshop titled "Tools for Community/Tools for Art." The workshop will take place at 5:15 p.m. in HPER 161, 1025 E. Seventh St., Bloomington. It is open to "movers onstage and movers in the community." For more information, contact Shea at 812-855-7020.

The activities, some of which will contribute to ArtsWeek at IU, are tied to the Feb. 26 IU Auditorium performance by the Dance Exchange of Ferocious Beauty: Genome, described by the Chicago Sun-Times as "Science for poets or cinematic biochemistry." The newspaper wrote that the multimedia spectacle, which includes interviews with leading geneticists, should not be missed by anyone "fascinated by the intersection of science and art, or by the morally challenging issues now in play in the field of genetics."

Liz Lerman

Liz Lerman

Recipient of the MacArthur Foundation "genius" award, Lerman spent several years consulting with leading geneticists and scientists before unveiling the work in 2006.

"Indiana University is a perfect venue for this initiative and the associated conversations," said IU anthropologist Anya Peterson Royce. "We have a vibrant performing arts community both on and off campus and superb programs in the sciences. The university has declared the life sciences to be a major initiative in its strategic planning without sacrificing its traditional strong support for the arts and humanities."

Royce and Shea learned that they both were exploring the possibility of bringing the dance company to IU Bloomington -- and they decided to team up. Both were awarded separate IU New Frontiers in the Arts and Humanities grants to arrange the visits. Below is a description of some of the planned activities.

  • Visiting artist residency. A three-part residency with Shea's modern dance majors began last week and will culminate with a a world premiere at the IU Dance Theatre's annual faculty/guest artist performance. The Dance Exchange includes dancers from across the lifespan, which is rare in an art form that relies on the human body as its instrument. Life experiences and maturity, said Shea, can lead to deeper performances that transcend just purely physical movement. "With the Dance Exchange, we'll see a sharply professional performance with some of the best dancers in the country. Yet, they also take the art into the community. I attended a workshop by Liz Lerman years ago, and it was an amazing experience." Under the artistic direction of choreographer Martha Wittman -- a performer and collaborator with the Dance Exchange since 1996 -- the IU students will build a new section to the multi-media dance Imprints on a Landscape: The Mining Project. Instead of continuing the examination of coal and mining communities, however, this piece will explore wind and solar energy. In building Wind Studies, students are learning tools and techniques developed over the years by the Dance Exchange to bring personal investigations into new creations. Wittman and Dance Exchange dancers are working alongside the student dancers to research, build, analyze and present their movement collaborations in a work that Wittman expects to be "energetic, celebratory and forward-looking." The work will be performed Jan. 16-17 at the Ruth N. Halls Theatre. This year's concert is titled The Community of Dance, and will also feature the work by world renowned modern dance choreographer Bill Evans.
  • Nov. 10 community workshop. "The Dance Exchange's approach to art is very inclusive," Shea said. "The idea is that we can all make a contribution." The workshop, held from 5:15 p.m.-6:30 p.m., will use dance to help participants explore their various definitions of "community." Organizers say it will explore the common ground between the art of making dance and the act of building community. Moving, leading, following, partnering, inventing, collaborating, manipulating space and managing time: all are essential elements of choreography and vital functions of community interaction. These connections make the accessible tools of Liz Lerman Dance Exchange broadly applicable to a wide range of concerns. Participants will gain hands-on experience with techniques that challenge professional artists to grow their craft while demonstrating for everyone practical ways of working that can be of use in their own lives."
  • 10 days of dialogue, workshops revolving around science, art, ethics and Ferocious Beauty: Genome. Royce said performances of Ferocious Beauty: Genome, typically include a variety of symposia, panel discussions and workshops designed to create conversations between community members and academics, artists and scientists, ethicists, philosophers and policy-makers. A series of such gatherings, including one at WonderLab for children, will cluster around the Feb. 26 performance at IU Auditorium, ArtsWeek and celebrations surrounding the 150th anniversary of Darwin's Origin of the Species.

For more information, contact Shea at 812-855-7020 or, and Royce at For additional assistance, contact Tracy James at 812-855-0084 or For more information about Ferocious Beauty: Genome at IU Auditorium, visit For more information about the Liz Lerman Dance Exchange, visit