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Arts & Culture

Saving and Sharing a Dance Legacy

University Libraries Awarded NEH Grant to Digitize Videos of Liz Lerman Dance Exchange

By Eric Bartheld

Liz Lerman

Liz Lerman Dance Exchange archives, Special Collections in Performing Arts, University Libraries

University Libraries will digitize videos that document the works of a celebrated Maryland dance company founded by choreographer, performer and educator Liz Lerman ’70, thanks to a new National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) grant.

The University of Maryland Libraries will digitize videos that document the works of a celebrated Maryland dance company founded by an alumna, thanks to a $313,753 National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) grant announced yesterday.

Founded in 1976, the Liz Lerman Dance Exchange in Takoma Park, Md., gained international acclaim by producing more than 100 innovative dance or theater works and touring throughout the United States and abroad. The project will make freely available online 1,329 videotape recordings of rehearsals and performances as well as 211 performance programs.

“NEH has been extremely generous to the University Libraries over the years by awarding grants critical to the growth of our digitization program,” said Interim Dean of Libraries Babak Hamidzadeh. “We’re grateful for their support and for their confidence in our expertise.”

Lerman ’70 is a visionary choreographer, performer and educator and one of the first to incorporate advocacy in creating her works. She empowered seniors and movement-impaired dancers, in part, by choreographing for her company’s adjunct troupe of senior dancers, Dancers of the Third Age. Throughout her career, she has influenced the worlds of performance, arts-based community engagement and cross-disciplinary collaboration, winning critical and scholarly attention.
In 2004, the Dance Exchange gave its archive to the Michelle Smith Performing Arts Library, part of the University Libraries. 

“The Liz Lerman Dance Exchange records are an ideal example of a collection of a locally grown dance company that ascended to international recognition,” said Vincent Novara, curator for special collections in performing arts at the Michelle Smith Library. “We’re pleased to have this opportunity to widen the reach and access for scholars and fans of dance to these unique video documents of such innovative and thought-provoking works.”

The videos document rehearsals, works in development and performances, as well as Critical Response Process exchanges, which showcase the pioneering four-step process that Lerman devised for giving and receiving feedback on any form of artistic work in progress.
Digitizing the recordings also preserves them: A previous pilot project to digitize 100 of the Lerman videotapes revealed that they were degrading. An estimated 15 percent of the tapes had audiotrack loss or severe audio distortion, which means that a considerable part of the performance had been lost.

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