Local Acts: Community-Based Performance in the United States

By Jan Cohen-Cruz | Go to book overview

Closing: Boundary Jumping

WASHINGTON, D.C., Yom Kippur, October 2003. I am with choreographer Liz Lerman and some four hundred congregants at Temple Micah, dancing our atonement on this the most solemn day of the Jewish calendar. Ten days ago, on the Jewish New Year, Rabbi Daniel Zemel invited worshippers to write down their sins of the past year so they could be used as part of today’s danced prayer. Lerman has chosen the following sins that were inscribed most frequently: For the sin I sinned by losing my temper, by being impatient, for my smart mouth, my pride, and for not listening. Five congregants join her on the bima (stage) and each reads a sin. Lerman has choreographed a movement for each, which she teaches all four hundred of us now. The gestures are of the hands, face, arms, and fingers; we can do them standing in place. We all do each gesture as the five congregants each read the corresponding line. Then we join in speaking and embodying all five lines and gestures. Next we do the gestures as we sing a song with different words but the same spirit of praying for forgiveness for our sins. Then music is added. Each time, the totality of the words and gestures take me to a deeper place. All of me is asking for forgiveness.

One boundary traversed here is between art and ritual. A professional choreographer has brought her expertise to a spiritual context. One of the strengths of performance in a ritual context is that everyone has prepared, not just the facilitators. All of us in Temple Micah have been reading the prayers and listening to the rabbi’s words and the choir’s songs. Doubtlessly we have engaged at different levels, but, nonetheless, the power of the dance is surely related to our readiness. Equally important, all of us present, not the artist alone, has chosen forgiveness as the theme. The meaningfulness of the ritual context gives the art the possibility of playing a more central role in this community’s life.

The next boundary overstepped is the typical demographics of community-based art. Through her work in this Washington Jewish community, Lerman is investigating bringing people of wealth and status into this field of performance, too. That full societal participation be welcome is a very rare

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Local Acts: Community-Based Performance in the United States
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • List of Illustrations ix
  • Acknowledgments xi
  • Introduction 1
  • Part One - Legacies 15
  • Chapter 1 - Early Antecedents 17
  • Chapter 2 - Motion of the Ocean 35
  • Chapter 3 - Establishing the Field 60
  • Part Two - Principles 79
  • Chapter 4 - Between Ritual and Art 81
  • Chapter 5 - Criticism 105
  • Part Three - Methodologies 127
  • Chapter 6 - Storytelling 129
  • Chapter 7 - Performance Structures 153
  • Closing- Boundary Jumping 181
  • Notes 191
  • Bibliography 195
  • Index 205
  • About the Author 213
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