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Capital Fringe Festival

Choreography by Christopher Morgan
and dancers from the Liz Lerman Dance Exchange
in 'Muscle and Mortar: Animating Architecture'
Artistic direction by Christopher Morgan

by Carmel Morgan

July 26, 2008 -- National Building Museum, Washington, DC

The Liz Lerman Dance Exchange’s site-specific work, “Muscle and Mortar: Animating Architecture” gave the 2008 Capital Fringe Festival a unique hit.  It’s a tall order to choreograph a work that highlights the architecture of a huge, amazingly beautiful, historic building – in this case the National Building Museum in downtown D.C.  Christopher Morgan and the Dance Exchange dancers successfully achieved this monumental task, and then some.   

Over thirty barefoot dancers (company members and guest artists), wearing unifying shades of white/cream, and community participants (including a ballerina tot in cotton-candy pink tulle) breathed life into the vast, imposing space, which is filled with grand archways, towering columns, and even a fountain. 

Through clever movements and outright requests, the dancers invited the audience to explore the Building Museum’s structure.  Playfully, the performers led the audience, initially standing on the outskirts of the space, from one end of the building’s Great Hall to the other.  The eyes of those watching leapt from human bodies to the body of the building.  Glancing up, down, and all around, the audience’s perspective constantly shifted, thereby enriching its appreciation of the architecture. 

Games flourished – find the dancers, join the dance.  Dancers engaged in mad dash runs and large sweeping gestures, their feet falling silent on the carpeted floor.  The work had a soft, spontaneous feeling.  Music – often classical music or slightly space-agey sounds, but also traffic noise – sometimes accompanied the movement. 

The most striking part of “Muscle and Mortar” involved the dancers on the upper floor.  Heads humorously bounced atop an outer railing, their bodies hidden by a low wall.  Arms dangled over the edge.  Body parts sank and re-emerged in exquisite pop-up duets.  With their arms unfolding from behind huge urns, the dancers looked like Greek statues being birthed. 

Toward the end of the piece, audience members were asked to climb the building’s stairs.  From above, a rare perspective for viewing dance, the audience watched dancers roll onto the floor.  They made a flowing line, limbs touching limbs, feet linked to hands and hips.  Dancers later sped around on an imaginary grid like flying bricks being put into place by an invisible workman.  The space gradually emptied of dancers.  Finally, the fountain, which had been dormant, gushed upward.  The journey through the Building Museum, as led by the Dance Exchange dancers, truly helped audience members to see the building’s heart and soul.

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