Liz Lerman: Hiking the Horizontal

Field Notes from a Choreographer

Review by Tommer Peterson

2011, 332 pages, Wesleyan University Press, Middletown, CT

Liz Lerman's body of work has come to symbolize the participatory community arts movement, and this collection of essays delightfully chronicles both her artistic growth as a choreographer and the intellectual process that led her to this path that revolutionized the ways in which dance is developed, performed, and experienced.

Hiking the Horizontal comprises scores of essays grouped thematically. Some are as long as a chapter, others merely a few sentences in length. Each tackles a particular idea or story line, and each is a gem. The format rewards a “browsing” reading style for those who prefer to sample rather than follow a linear path.

Readers who are familiar with Lerman's works, large and small, will enjoy the revelation of her doubts and moments of inspiration that are carefully documented in the stories of developing many of these iconic projects. There is also a subtle voice of the teacher that emerges as she talks about experiments that took unplanned turns, as well as her delight in discovering movement and gestures from unexpected sources. Projects that were major turning points, like the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard (1994–96), are examined in more depth and often referenced in different essays. This overlapping provides multiple perspectives on both Lerman's evolving internal artistic growth as well as the ways these immersions with different communities contributed to development of subsequent works.

The history of the Dance Exchange is, of course, woven throughout, and one wishes individual entries included a date reference, since they are grouped by topic, rather than chronology, but part of the fun is connecting the dots.

Funders who are charged with making decisions about individual artists' untried ideas would be well served to keep a copy of this book handy.