When she was a kid, Liz Lerman thought she was going to be a ballerina. But, as the renowned choreographer and radical visionary said in her acceptance speech upon receiving the Jacob's Pillow Dance Award last summer, "Then the world happened." After early training in Graham technique and, yes, ballet, Lerman had a crisis of faith around age 14. She was witnessing the rise of the civil rights movement, but she didn't know it was possible to deal with such subject matter in dance. And so began a long exploration. From her disillusionment emerged a radical philosophy of inclusion that would underpin her art-making for the next 50 years.
Over the course of her career, Lerman, who turns 70 this month, has taught and made and built dances and experiences in studios, nursing homes, shipyards and laboratories. She has worked in residence at prestigious institutions, earned fellowships and grants from major funders, including a MacArthur "Genius Grant" Fellowship, and collaborated to build Dance Exchange, the company she founded in 1976. Her work has helped communities around the country and the world to excavate new insights into who they are and why they matter. Lerman has perpetually questioned who gets to dance, as well as what the dance is about, where it is happening and why it matters.
Now in her second year as Institute Professor at Arizona State University, Lerman remains as curious, engaged and ready for new work as ever. In 2011, she left Dance Exchange and published a book, Hiking the Horizontal: Field Notes from a Choreographer, about her inclusive nonhierarchical approach to making art.