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Liz Lerman Dance Exchange and the Theater and Performance Studies Program at Georgetown University

'Love, Etcetera: Dances to William Shakespeare and Willie Nelson' - 'Nocturnes' and 'The Farthest Earth From Thee'

by Carmel Morgan

February 14, 2008 -- The Gonda Theater, David Performing Arts Center, Georgetown University, Washington, DC

The Liz Lerman Dance Exchange, along with students from the Theater and Performance Studies Program at Georgetown University and guest artists, presented “Love, Etcetera: Dances to William Shakespeare and Willie Nelson” on February 14, 2008.  With love as its inspiration for this Valentine’s Day show, the performance featured two dynamic Dance Exchange works, “Nocturnes,” and “The Farthest Earth From Thee.”

As Producing Artistic Director Peter DiMuro explained in the program notes, “Every artistic activity at Liz Lerman Dance Exchange includes some body or some thing that might be considered outside the expected boundaries or usual containers.”  The two works on the program exemplified that philosophy.     

“Nocturnes,” choreographed by Liz Lerman in 1996, is danced to the soulful tunes of Willie Nelson.  Nelson’s moving music complements the choreography and the members of the Dance Exchange’s intergenerational ensemble extremely well.  The company’s dancers range in age from their twenties to their seventies.  It is profoundly satisfying to see old and young dancers interact with one another.  The charisma quotient of these performers is high.

Thomas Dwyer, who is in his seventies, is one of the company’s standouts.  With a shock of white hair and long, thin limbs, he moves with assurance and easily holds one’s interest.  The other older dancers, too, move with such self-possession that it’s difficult not to be captivated by their commanding presence.  That’s not to say that the Dance Exchange’s younger dancers aren’t equally as interesting to watch.  For example, the buoyant Cassie Meador, with her long red mane, also captures one’s attention.

“Nocturnes” weaves the multigenerational dancers together through a medley of Nelson’s best songs.  The work opens with a light-hearted sequence to “All of Me.”  Charming hand gestures – crooked doll arms and hands on behinds – unite the dancers as they soft shoe and twirl around.  The humor continues as a love ‘em and leave ‘em female causes several men to mope.  Sharing in their heart-break, the male dancers slouch, tucking their hands in their shirt bottoms and tugging them down, creating a comic sad sack effect. 

To the beloved ballad, “Always on My Mind,” dancers engage in a pair of poignant duets – a younger and older woman, and a younger and older man.  There are angry tosses and gentle touches on the shoulder, embodying the dramatic ups and downs of parent/child relationships.  Dwyer, to the lovely melody “Blue Skies,” briskly runs and leaps in a large circle like he’s chasing his shadow or jumping sidewalk cracks.  The choreography doesn’t appear to bend for his age.     

Peter DiMuro’s recent work, “The Farthest Earth From Thee,” uses Shakespeare’s sonnets as its inspiration.  The work premiered as part of the “Shakespeare in Washington Festival” in 2007.  It features a very diverse cast, including dancers with a wide range of experience and abilities.  Performers in wheelchairs are perfectly integrated into the piece. 

Susie Richard, who stands four feet tall and uses a wheelchair and crutches as a result of the genetic bone disorder osteogenesis imperfecta, practically steals the show as the work’s narrator.  Richard holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in theater from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and is the Artistic Director of DC’s Open Circle Theatre, so she is no stranger to the stage.  She dances effortlessly, but it is her vivacious personality that shines brightest.

“Farthest” is a lively work; however, it’s also chaotic.  There are dancers flying on wheeled dollies, balancing in grocery carts, and meandering through rows of cabbage, not to mention the fairy winged dog playing Cupid.  While the work is shaped around the structure of the sonnet and provides some education with regard to that poetic form, it is more madcap fun than an academic exploration of the subject. 

Even though the work as a whole isn’t terribly cohesive, there are many wonderfully funny and touching moments.  Richard has some hilarious lines.  “Saucy!” she exclaims when another dancers slaps her rear end.  Also amusing is the dancers’ attempt to interpret the “space between two quatrains.”  An affectionate duet between a woman in a motorized wheelchair and a male dancer is unexpectedly beautiful.  With all of the diverse dancers together on stage, there’s an intoxicating buzz of energy that makes “Farthest” a worthwhile piece, despite the confusion.                   

The evening’s performance left one with the warm fuzzy feeling that everyone can dance, and that everyone should dance.  And we should all dance together as often as possible.  There can be no better Valentine’s Day gift than that in the world of dance.

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