DEER ISLE, Maine — One of the country’s leading choreographers, Liz Lerman, will be in residence at Haystack’s Center for Community Programs in Deer Isle village March 19-30, during which she will lead workshops on creativity and movement:
• “Examining Research Tools for Artwork and Projects,” 3-4 p.m. Saturday, March 24, at Haystack’s Center for Community Programs in Deer Isle.
• “Evaluating Work-Value of Feedback,” 7-8 p.m. Wednesday, March 28, at Haystack’s Center for Community Programs in Deer Isle.
• “One Sky — One World,” a community gathering, 4 p.m. Saturday, March 25, at the Community of Christ Church in Stonington.
Lerman, known around the world for challenging restrictive conventions of modern dance, has visited Maine several times before for residencies and workshops in Portland and Deer Isle.
A recipient of the prestigious MacArthur Foundation “Genius” award, Lerman was also one of the 50 artists in the country to receive a United States Artists fellowship in 2011. Her theatrical dance works, have been seen throughout the United States and abroad.
“I insisted that dance is something that all ages can do,” said Lerman on Monday morning, a day after arriving in Deer Isle. “That you’d be old at 25 — what was that about? Sometimes these things that we think are traditional, they’re not. They’re just conventions. Somewhere, some society — in this case most likely the French courts — had the notion that someone young and lithe was the purest example of beauty, and that’s just not true.”
During her career, she has taught and performed with an incredible variety of people, including hospitalized children in Washington, D.C., and shipyard workers in Portsmouth, N.H.
“She breaks down the hierarchies of who gets to be the person making artwork,” said Stuart Kestenbaum, director of Haystack Mountain School of Craft, who first met Lerman in 1989 at a conference organized by the New England Foundation of the Arts.
Lerman, founder of The Dance Exchange in 1976, has been dancing since she was 5 years old, when her mother began enrolling her in top dancing schools. She received a bachelor’s degree in dance from the University of Maryland and a master’s in dance from George Washington University.
“The thing is, I’m a lucky person because I was brought up within a really strong tradition, but I was also able to challenge that tradition and move the art form in different directions,” she said. “I think when people get to do that in any field, when you’re part of something and then move it, that’s a lucky thing.”
Before traveling to Maine for the March residency, Lerman spent three weeks training artists at the Atlantic Center for the Arts in Orlando, Fla. After the residency, she will return home to Baltimore to work with the local orchestra to bring movement to “Afternoon of a Faun.” Then she’ll travel to Ireland and London.
“I love being up here,” Lerman said. “The state has been very kind to me. I’ve been back and forth to Maine a lot. … I love the land up here, and I find it soothes my soul — I know that sounds corny, but it’s true, as soon as I cross the bridge [onto Deer Isle]. For a person like me, the chance to take in the horizon is pretty special.”
For the two-week residency, Lerman will work with local artists, teachers in the Deer Isle-Stonington School and the Island Nursing Home, sharing ideas about creative thinking, artistic processes and movement. She also plans to delve into the archives of the Deer Isle-Stonington Historical Society for Civil War documents and preserved letters to research for a new project she’s working on exploring advancements in medicine during war times.
All who attend the free Sunday community program, “One Sky — One World,” are welcome to participate as Lerman works with the community to create a new choreographed piece to the music of The Community Choir and Evensong West. She will begin with simple, everyday gestures — the shake of a hand or the swing of a hammer — and these meaningful movements will evolve into a story, a performance akin to folk dancing.
“I have found over the years, that even though it sounds a little frightening to people at first, when they actually do it, it’s really engaging,” she said. “I always say, you can come, but you don’t have to do it. It’s fine if people just want to come watch. There’s only one rule — you have to keep a pleasant countenance on your face.”
“Art is really a powerful thing,” she continued. “It really belongs to everybody. Don’t be afraid of it, and don’t think it’s an elitist thing. It’s not. It’s central to how we are as people.”
Learn about Lerman at her artist website, lizlerman.com or check out her recently published book, “Hiking the Horizontal: Field Notes from a Choreographer,” about the creative process. The Maine residency is supported by grants from the Island Education Foundation and from a component fund of the Maine Community Foundation.