Arizona Artbeat: Choreographer Liz Lerman

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Famed choreographer Liz Lerman is now teaching at Arizona State University. We’ll show you her unique approach to taking dance out of the studio and into shipyards, nursing homes and other locations, helping other professions with her art.

Ted Simons: Tonight's edition of Arizona Artbeat looks at a renowned choreographer stepping outside the bounds of dance, when many think of dance they think of ballet or ballroom but choreographer Liz Lerman thinks of shipyards and nursing homes, and she is convinced everyone could use art, and that artists need to take their work into their real world. Producer Lisa Adams talked to the same choreographer teaching now at ASU.

Liz Lerman: Let me see something with your hands.

Lisa Adams: In a bright studio on the ASU Tempe campus, every day events are turned into movement.

Liz Lerman: All right. Did you get a partner, please?

Lisa Adams: Lerman isn't teaching dance. She's creating a new way of thinking about and experiencing art.

Liz Lerman: We need to rethink what artists do in the world. How we structure our lives, make our work. How we are part of the communities that we live in.

Lisa Adams: This community in particular is more diverse than the typical dance class. There are theater majors, writers, musicians, and a few dance majors.

Angeline Young: I love that everyone brings different strengths and experiences from their backgrounds, and their areas of study. And I love that. I think that it's great. There is a lot of cross exchange.

Lisa Adams: Liz Lerman is all about stretching dance beyond the confines of the pointed toes. Her class is called Animating Research. And she challenges her students to dig deep, and to turn topics like cell research and economics into dance.

Liz Lerman: To see how I take it in, because I am busy you know, rehearsing.

Lisa Adams: Today, Piper Center writer Meredith Martinez is talking about how she researches and thinks and writes about place. Now, the students have to turn place into movement. For Martinez it's a new way of looking at her story.

Meredith Martinez: The medium of the story changes what the story is, and how it is received. And carried by the person who either reads it or watches it or hears it.

Lisa Adams: In Liz Lerman's world, place, like a nursing home, can translate into dance.

Liz Lerman: What happens when artists engage this way and their art changes? Something happens, you are asked to do something with your art that you would not somewhere been asked if you were just in the studio. This is profoundly misunderstood.

Lisa Adams: Lerman says the idea is reciprocal, just as many communities can inspire dance, art and the artistic process can improve other work environments.

Liz Lerman: In my opinion there is not a single place where it would not be better if there were not artists embedded in the work, whether it's public policy, health, health care, and the prisons, and I just can't think of a place where it would not help.

Lisa Adams: ASU thinks Lerman can help. One of her roles here is to partner with seven researchers from such diverse areas as Earth Science and Social Work, to create new ways of communicating their work.

Liz Lerman: It's an interesting mix of any subject matter is possible to make personal, can we make this meaningful, and can the researcher start saying wow, this is really an important thing for us to be doing for the public, and let's see what happens.

Lisa Adams: An experiment full of potential, through the infinite world of creativity.

Liz Lerman: Like you can say, we just found the title.

Ted Simons: Some of Liz Lerman's collaborations are set to be performed, I should say, in the next few months. And Tuesday, on Arizona Horizon, Phoenix Mayor Greg Stanton joins us in the studio to discuss a variety of city issues, and we'll check out the works of a 90-year-old artist who focuses on race and religion on the next Arizona Horizon. That is it for now. I'm Ted Simons. Thank you very much for joining us. You have a great evening.

Video: Arizona Horizon is made possible by contributions from the friends of Arizona PBS. Members of your Arizona PBS station. Thank you.

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