The humor, originality and inquisitive spirit that have made dancer-choreographer Liz Lerman one of Washington's prime movers over the past decade or so were much in evidence during her program of solo dances at the Washington Project for the Arts last night.
The event, to be repeated tonight and next Thursday, was the first component in a 10-day residency at WPA for Lerman's Dance Exchange troupe, as part of the new Washington Dance Series. Next weekend's activities will also include group performances, an open rehearsal and a public forum.
A program note termed Lerman "a dance humanist," which is a succinct way of describing an artist whose past work has confronted such issues as pollution, both moral and physical; the generation gap and how to bridge it; aging, disease and death.
Lerman, who as a dancer seems part dynamo, part clown, part pixie, is also a very verbal person. In one of the evening's several asides to the audience, she noted that unlike George Balanchine, who thinks of words and dance as utterly separate, she feels more and more a need to bring the two realms together. The three dances of the program that were Lerman's own were filled as much with speech as movement. The mesh wasn't always smooth or successful. At its best, however, it proved both acridly witty and penetrating, and it was never less than stimulating.
The evening's one premiere was "Journey IV," a solo version of an opus that has also been seen as an ensemble piece. The "journey" is nothing less than a human life cycle. "I came into the world," Lerman intones as the piece begins, parsing the sentence with staccato bursts of "illustrative" or allegorical movement. As the dance proceeds, the monologue asserts gradual mastery of the body, the senses, conceptual thought, speech, motion and play. There follows a lengthy, wordless psychodrama in which Lerman passes through episodes of angst, excitement, pain and assuagement, the cycle returning to origin with Lerman declaring, "I made myself what I am . . . I came into the world."
In its present state, the premise of the dance seems more compelling than its realization. Despite many interestingly quirky movement phrases, the connections between what Lerman says and what she does often appear arbitrary. c
One suspects, though, that "Journey," like so much of Lerman's previous work, will be refined in future performances. Two earlier cases in point were seen on the same program: "New York City Winter," a portrait, at once bleak and funny, of a young dancer in a topless bar dreaming of Martha Graham and ballet; and "Who's On First?" Lerman's wonderfully engaging discourse on sport and dance. The first has been trimmed, though still not altogether effectively; the second has picked up an Ives score for its concluding cadenza, much to the enhancement of the whole.
Also on the program was a solo version of Carol Boggs' "Sun, Air, Earth," a sporadically arresting lexicon of movement qualities.