2017 Jacob's Pillow Dance Award Goes to Liz Lerman

2017 Jacob's Pillow Dance Award Goes to Liz Lerman

Published on March 29, 2017
Liz Lerman, center, dances “Swan Lake” in 1982.

Acknowledging the Choreographer, Performer, Writer and Educator

The 2017 Jacob’s Pillow Dance Award, a prestigious honor that carries a $25,000 cash prize, will be presented to choreographer, performer, writer, educator, and speaker Liz Lerman in acknowledgement of her vision and outstanding contributions to the dance field.  Long ago dubbed the “Democrat of Dance” by Alan M. Kriegsman of The Washington Post, Lerman’s extraordinary career of the past four decades includes a wide range of groundbreaking work. Established in 2007, the Jacob’s Pillow Dance Award’s previous recipients include the legendary choreographer Merce Cunningham; MacArthur Fellows Michelle Dorrance and Kyle Abraham; and choreographer, performer, and artistic director Camille A. Brown, among others.

Liz Lerman. Photo by Lise Metzger.

“Liz is a creative visionary,” says Jacob’s Pillow Director Pamela Tatge. “Since the 1970s, she has built bridges to other domains and expanded where dance lives in our society. She has paved the way for a whole generation of dance makers to discover the power of social change through community engagement and by, as she puts it, 'rattling around in other people’s universes.' Her vision, artistry and her spirit of inquiry continue to dramatically shape the field. As the Pillow embarks on its next evolution of research and development, we find it particularly important to honor one of the seminal forces of this work in our country.”

“I am so fortunate to be acknowledged in my own lifetime, and for that recognition to come from such an iconic place as Jacob Pillow, which has been a spiritual and radical home to dance, is incredible,“ says Liz Lerman. "I think the recognition is casting a light on a larger set of ideas, that allow people to think about the relationship between stage work, learning environments of all kinds, engagement, and the role of the artist as citizen. I hope what the Pillow is saying to me, is we have respected your willingness to push boundaries, and we expect and need that to continue."   

BLOOD, MUSCLE, BONE: the anatomy of wealth and poverty by Urban Bush Women and Liz Lerman.

“A veteran choreographer of ideas” (Sarah Kaufman, The Washington Post), Liz Lerman introduced an important era of radical inclusion in dance. Her artistic research brings various publics into the work, tackling topics of developmental biology and astrophysics to the physical and psychological wounds of war. From the multigenerational ensemble of the former Liz Lerman Dance Exchange to her more recent "necessary, vital, and…uplifting” (Tim Smith, The Baltimore Sun) projects, her work exhibits “expansive range, emotional depth and singular beauty” (Sarah Kaufman, The Washington Post). She was an early innovator mixing media with dance, including dancers talking on stage beginning in 1974. The use of new technologies is a central part of her work from 1984 to the present, showing a huge range of study from shipyards, to genetics, to the Large Hadron Collider at CERN. Lerman has been met with numerous accolades, including a 2002 MacArthur "Genius Grant" Fellowship, a 2011 United States Artists Ford Fellowship in Dance, and the 2014 Dance/USA Honor Award. Her work has been commissioned by prestigious venues and universities alike, including Harvard Law School, Wesleyan University, Lincoln Center, and the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, as well as Jacob’s Pillow.

Jacob’s Pillow Director Pamela Tatge will present Lerman with the Award at the Season Opening Gala on June 17. This fall, Lerman will participate in the Pillow’s regional convening of New England choreographers, where participants will share work, discuss career-building issues and be introduced to Lerman’s Critical Response Process, and internationally renowned system in use for over 25 years for soliciting feedback on any creative work. In the week after receiving her award, Lerman will participate in a free PillowTalk titled Liz Lerman: Dance for Our Time on Friday, June 23 at 5pm.

Watch Liz Lerman Dance Exchange in 2000’s Hallelujah: In Praise of Fertile Fields.

Lerman’s rich history with Jacob’s Pillow dates back to 1985 with her Pillow debut performance in the Inside/Out Performance Series with a work titled Liz Lerman and Seniors. Throughout the last 30 years, Lerman has held several engagements in both the Ted Shawn and Doris Duke Theatres, participated in PillowTalks, directed workshops in The School at Jacob’s Pillow, performed in co-presentation engagements with the Pillow’s cultural partner MASS MoCA, and more. An especially close collaboration between Lerman and the Pillow took place in 2000 when the Pillow commissioned a component of The Hallelujah Project, a multi-year initiative that resulted in the premiere of In Praise of Fertile Fields.

The Jacob’s Pillow Dance Award was created in 2007 through an annual anonymous gift of $50,000, of which $25,000 is given to an artist of exceptional vision. In commemoration, the honoree receives a custom-designed glass award sculpture by Berkshire-based artist Tom Patti, whose work is in the collections of the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Museum of Modern Art in New York, among other prominent institutions worldwide. The inaugural Award was given in 2007 to Annie-B Parson and Paul Lazar, co-directors of Big Dance Theater. Subsequent awardees were Alonzo King (2008), Artistic Director of Alonzo King LINES Ballet; Merce Cunningham (2009), whose company gave its final performances during his lifetime at Jacob’s Pillow that season; Bill T. Jones (2010), who accepted the Award weeks after receiving his second Tony Award for the Broadway hit FELA!; Crystal Pite (2011), international choreographer and Artistic Director of Kidd Pivot; Kyle Abraham (2012), dancer, choreographer, and Artistic Director of Abraham.In.Motion; perennial Festival artist Michelle Dorrance (2013) dancer, choreographer, and Artistic Director of Dorrance Dance; John Heginbotham (2014) choreographer and Artistic Director of Dance Heginbotham; Liz Gerring (2015) choreographer and director of Liz Gerring Dance; and Camille A. Brown (2016) choreographer, performer, teacher, and artistic director of Camille A. Brown & Dancers.

The donor’s annual gift also provides for $25,000 for Jacob’s Pillow commissions, presentations, and the Creative Development Residency Program, which has funded residencies for numerous dance artists including Ephrat Asherie, Netta Yerushalmy, Ronald K. Brown & Arturo O’Farrill, Sara Mearns, Bryan Arias, John Heginbotham, Michelle Dorrance, Andrea Miller, Adam H. Weinert, Kyle Abraham, Camille A. Brown, Suzanne Farrell, MADBOOTS DANCE, Big Dance Theater, zoe | juniper, Stephen Petronio, Kimberly Bartosik, Rashaun Mitchell, Silas Reiner, and many others.

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