At Dance Exchange’s HOME event this past Thursday we had the incredible opportunity to hear from Liz Lerman about the inspiration behind Still Crossing (1986). Still Crossing was created to celebrate the centennial of the Statue of Liberty. It was performed on July 11th, 1986 in Battery Park overlooking Ellis Island. Inspired by the political climate of the time, Liz’s Russian grandfather, and the experiences of the immigrant communities that she worked with, Still Crossing explores the themes of facing the unknown, navigating hardship, and finding strength.
It has been fascinating to discover the ways that Still Crossing continues to touch individuals almost 30 years later. The stories that the Dance Exchange has gathered over the past two years from local residents about their personal journeys both to and within New Hampshire Ave. illustrate how the psychological and emotional experience of leaving one home for another is universal in many ways. My favorite thing about rehearsing on site has been seeing people, many of whom are immigrants themselves, watch us from their balconies and occasionally come down to join in themselves. In the specific context of New Hampshire Ave: This is a Place Too… I think that Still Crossing also speaks to the process of building trust, coming together across difference, and claiming agency.
During this week we have all witnessed and experienced the many challenges of this project some of which include, capturing the complexity of the stories we have heard, creating site specific artwork when the site is constantly changing, and really working to ensure that everyone has a voice. Still in the moments when we have gathered to practice Still Crossing, I have been filled with a great optimism about the profound significance of coming together with members of the Takoma Park/Langley Park neighborhood for the sole purpose of seeing each other, hearing each other, and making art.
I’ve never made faster friends.
There is something quite special about the diversity of people I have seen moved by this piece. In each of the community workshops where we have taught the choreography, I have been struck by its power and what it evokes for me. After spending this week along New Hampshire Ave. considering what it was, what it is, and what it will be, I am looking forward to the opportunity to perform Still Crossing at this particular site during this moment in its history.