Liz Lerman is someone whom I would characterize as the people’s choreographer. She creates work that includes people from all walks of life, including professional dancers, and her work is about them. She is a dance artist who is well-known throughout the US and abroad, and currently Institute Professor at the Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts at Arizona State University in Tempe, Arizona. There she directs programs and courses that bridge disciplines throughout the university.

Liz Lerman at Scripps College - Photo courtesy of Scripps College

Liz Lerman at Scripps College – Photo courtesy of Scripps College

Presented in partnership with the Scripps College Department of Dance and the Intercollegiate Department of Chicano/a Latino/a Studies, Chicano Latino Student Affairs, Wicked BodiesA Work-In-Progress, was the culmination of a year-long partnership with Scripps College in Claremont, CA. where Lerman spent hours going through the archives of the Ella Strong Denison Library’s researching Witches and Healing. She also drew some of her material via conversations with people in the Claremont community.

Wicked BodiesA Work-In-Progress premiered on February 5, 2019 on the campus of Scripps College in the Balch Auditorium, a beautiful old building with high-beamed ceilings, a small stage on one end and windows that were very high up along two sides of the large room. The sold-out house was comprised of college students, Dance Department faculty and people from the community.

This event was an informal lecture/demonstration led by Lerman, who explained where her inspiration came from, the process of the work’s sections that were shown, and where she hoped that the work would go. The press release stated that “the piece takes up “wicked women” as its subject in order to explore how women’s bodies historically have been interpreted, portrayed, legislated, and negated.” This performance included four performers who have worked with her prior to this project, and seven community dancers drawn from the Dance Department. Haunting and scary photographs of witches and witchcraft archival books were projected along the back wall of the stage area.

Liz Lerman during a lecture at Scripps College – Photo courtesy of Scripps College.

The movement first seen included twisting hand gestures, arm pumps, dancers pivoting in place, repetitive contractions and spirals to the floor. Lerman assigned each movement phrase a letter of the alphabet.  A through F were demonstrated by the two men (Sam Horning and Keith Thompson), followed by the cast of dancers performing the entire alphabet as they were called out in order by Thompson and then randomly by Paloma McGregor. Lerman also had six women demonstrate how they created movements during a structured conversation before having them perform three duets that came out of that physical research. One recognized the ingredients and the similarities, but also saw how individual each duet became.

The sections were intriguing, haunting and the voice of singer Martha Gonzalez added great depth to the movement. One extraordinary section involved Gonzalez and former Trisha Brown company member Keith Thompson. Thompson has Albinism, a rare group of genetic disorders that cause the skin, hair, or eyes to have little or no color. First Lerman and Thompson demonstrated movements that he created from a conversation with Lerman about his disease and the effects it has had on his life. Thompson then put those movements together. This in itself was beautiful, but then Gonzalez performed a song that she had written in the style of Mexican Corrido, a story telling style most notably from the culture of the indigenous peoples of Mexico and Europe. While Thompson performed this very personal solo to Gonzalez’s powerful voice and words, the house was totally silent and bewitched (pun intended).

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Liz Lerman speaking to audience at Scripps College's Balch Auditorium during performance of A Work-In-Progress: Wicked Bodies - Photo Courtesy of Scripps College -Photographer: Elisa Ferrari

Another memorable section involved King James (Sam Horning) and witch (Paloma McGregor).  We learned that King James was infamous for killing hundreds of women falsely accused of witchcraft. Here, a witch who was murdered and burned, haunts King James and her whispers command his motions and evokes his confession. The duet’s ending was enhanced by the shadow it cast upon the auditorium’s wall, projecting the image of a large bird flying away with the corpse of the king.

This hour-long lecture/demonstration only whetted one’s appetite and desire to see the completed Wicked Bodies. Hopefully Scripps College can help to make that a reality.

The cast included commanding performances by Sam Horning, Martha Gonzalez, Paloma McGregor, and Keith Thompson with the very talented community dancers Ronnie Brosterman (Dance Department Professor and Chair), Emily Dauwalder, Selina Ho, Claire Joseph, Sasha Marlan-Librett, Lucy Ordman, and Cassie Wang.  The Sound Design was by Dan Gower with Lighting Design/Technical Direction by Michael Baker and Gregory Jackson.  Artistic support was given by Marcy Robinson and Henry Medina.

For more information on Liz Lerman, click here.

For more information on the Dance Department at Scripps College, click here.

Featured image: Projected photo during performance of  A Work-In-Progress: Wicked Bodies by Liz Lerman. Photo Courtesy of Scripps College -Photographer: Elisa Ferrari