Small Dances About Big Ideas

“Liz Lerman Dance Exchange… quietly engages us in a difficult subject. Lerman gently affirms that we can all be ‘up-standers,’ not ‘by-standers.’” –Robert Johnson, Best of 2006: 10 Dance Events That Deserve the Hype, Newark Star Ledger

“Lerman tackles [her subject] with vigor and grace, not literally, but with a kind of episodic abstraction. … Gesture, in the hands and bodies of Lerman’s 12 eloquent, eclectic dancers, speaks volumes…”–Thea Singer, The Boston Globe, November, 2005


Educational Engagement

Small Dances About Big Ideas is a vital theatrical work that takes a challenging look at mass violence, the scope of human compassion, and the capacity of the law to address genocide and other systematic atrocities. The result of an unprecedented partnership with Harvard Law School and commissioned by the Seevak Fund for The Harvard Law School/Facing History and Ourselves Program.  Small Dances About Big Ideas premiered in November, 2005, at “Pursuing Human Dignity: The Legacies of Nuremberg for International Law, Human Rights and Education,” an international conference that commemorated the 60th Anniversary of the Nuremberg Trials.

About Small Dances About Big Ideas

Liz Lerman focused not only on specifics of the Holocaust, but also on incidents that had occurred in the six decades since the trials in places such as Bosnia, South Africa, and Rwanda. The piece, therefore, does not simply view the issues raised by the Nuremberg Trials as ones of historic interest, but as vital to decisions we continue to make as nations, communities and individuals. Using movement, spoken word and a theatrical soundscape, Small Dances About Big Ideas features such characters as:

  • Raphael Lemkin (who coined the term genocide, constantly moving to represent his tireless activism and dogged persistence),
  • the “Bone Woman,” (a compassionate forensic anthropologist based on author Clea Koff,  investigating atrocities in Rwanda),
  • the three Norms (law-givers in Germanic mythology),
  • characters representing conflict and resolution in South Africa,
  • judges, a rape victim, and a reporter who evolves from a stance of dispassionate observation to one of engaged advocacy.

Since its Harvard premiere, Small Dances About Big Ideas has been presented at the Library of Congress, the University of Alabama, Birmingham, the EARTH Summit Conference in Vancouver, Canada, New York City’s Impact Festival, hosted by the Culture project, and the University of Maryland.

Small Dances About Big Ideas: Educational Engagement

The Dance Exchange will develop and conduct interactive educational programs in conjunction with Small Dances About Big Ideas with the support of the Covenant Foundation, the Maxine Greene Foundation and the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA).  The new programs will engage students and adults in schools, congregations and other settings to reflect on their roles in a world where mass violence continues to occur.

In developing these programs, Liz Lerman Dance Exchange will partner with Facing History and Ourselves, a Massachusetts-based organization that promotes a more humane and informed citizenry by engaging students in an examination of prejudice and anti-Semitism.

Funding from the Covenant Foundation, the Maxine Greene Foundation, and the NEA will support a range of activities related to the content of Small Dances About Big Ideas, including:

  • Further development of interactive elements to be incorporated into performances, including mechanisms to support audience dialogue.
  • Workshops that harness the power of movement and storytelling to support participants’ developing perceptions mass violence and their response to it.
  • Documentation and dissemination of teaching tools for artists and educators that are developed through the program.

“The Dance Exchange is an organization with connections in many worlds: secular and religious, educational and artistic, legal and activist, Jewish, Christian and multi-faith,” said project coordinator John Borstel, Humanities Director for Liz Lerman Dance Exchange. “Small Dances will be making an impact in all those worlds. It is a signal honor to be chosen for generous support by the three entities that have funded this project: the Covenant Foundation, with its deep investment in Jewish learning and ethical values; the Maxine Greene Foundation, which is committed to igniting new visions of community through innovative approaches to education, and the NEA, as part of the sheer diversity and inclusiveness of its scope.”