For choreographer Liz Lerman, the wisdom of David Stockman has a good beat and you can dance to it.

Head of the Dance Exchange, a local modern dance company, Lerman has set to movement the budget director's memorable interview in December's Atlantic magazine. The result -- its title borrowed from Stockman's published words, "None of us really understands what's going on with all these numbers" -- premiered the other night at The Dance Place, while Lerman and the Dance Exchange will perform it again this weekend.

The Stockman role gets danced in the production by a 64-year-old mother of four, who's five feet tall and weighs ninety pounds; the man himself, who's 35, has yet to react in public. "He's got much, much bigger things to think about," said his spokesman, Edwin Dale, adding, though, that reports of the dance made David Stockman chuckle.

"I've been watching him very carefully on television to see what he does with his hands -- how he folds them, one over the other," says raven-haired Jessica Rea, a onetime associate of Martha Graham's who does Stockman's steps. "Also, I've watched how he carries his head, and how he tilts his chin. That's really all you can catch on the tube. It would certainly help to meet him."

The dance itself appears as the finale of a mini-ballet called "Docudance," Lerman's look at society and politics through movement, words and song. At the start, six dancers in white shirts and black leg warmers stand stiffly in line, with Lerman reposed in front of them on a plain wooden chair.

"In this dance," Lerman announces chattily, "I play myself -- that is to say, the choreographer," and the dancers slowly break their line, moving abstractly as Rea, robot- like, chops with her arms.

"Cut. Slash.

"Divide. Trim.

"Pare," Rea says with each precise jerk of her body.

Then one of the dancers declaims, "David Stockman says" -- at which point everyone stops to cock an ear -- " 'Whenever there are great strains or changes in the economic system, it tends to generate crackpot theories, which find their way into the legislative channels.' "

With newfound frenzy, the dancers charge about the floor like crackpot theories in the legislative channels, bumping into one another and bouncing off into space.

Midst the chaos, another dancer booms, "David Stockman says," and all ears cock again, " 'It's kind of hard to sell trickle down, so the supply-side formula was the only way to get a tax policy that was really trickle down.' "

The company -- except for Rea, who goes on with her slashing gestures -- "trickles down" upon itself in separate heaps. Then, in turn, they dance to such buzz words as "safety net" and "magic asterisk," while one trots forth as a "Trojan horse" -- as in, "Kemp-Roth was always a Trojan horse to bring down the top rate."

At Stockman's words, "I don't have time," Rea starts to slash more furiously, her face a mask of terror. "I don't have time, trying to put this whole package together in three weeks, so you just start making snap judgments."

The chaos continues, and another dancer shouts, " 'Do you realize the greed that came to the forefront?' David Stockman asked with wonder. ("I did?" pleads the wide-eyed Rea.) 'The greed, the level of opportunism, just got out of control.' "

And the dancers careen out of control, before the work ends on a collective sigh of "theory."

Lerman, who teaches dance around town as well as creating and performing it, has been choreographing to words, often for the sake of satire, for the last eight years.

"I really love language," she says. "It motivates dance more than music,I think. For 'Docudance,' I wanted to do an abstract economics section, but I wasn't sure what direction it would take until the tax cut. My husband and I knew we'd get about thirty cents back. So when the David Stockman interview was published in The Atlantic, everything came together for me. I just picked out my favorite quotes."


The Dance Exchange will perform "Docudance" in a program of Politics and Art at 8 Friday night at Lansburgh's Center, 420 Seventh Street NW. Also on the bill are choreographer Maida Withers and the New Moves Co. Tickets $5. Call 783-8900 for information.