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Dances Celebrating Wisdom

At Colorado fest, performers - young and old - share a `commitment to wonder'

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Dance, she believes, can touch the lonely senior and the lonely youth and help bring them together. ``I guarantee when people study dance in a safe environment and are encouraged as artists, the teacher mirroring back to them how incredible they are, that there will be results,'' she says. ``For one thing, dance gives an extraordinary understanding of the relationship between discipline and freedom. Discipline and freedom go together, and everyone can benefit from that.''

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Lerman works regularly with the old, the young, and the infirm but insists her work is not therapy: ``There's a huge difference. We teach art. We want to make people artists. And this allows us to teach them their strengths rather than their weaknesses.''

But the world conspires against those dancers who want to serve their communities as well as their paying audiences. Most colleges, for example, split their dance programs into two distinct tracks: performance/choreography and dance education. It's somehow more respectable for a professional to wait tables between dance engagements than to teach dance and perform. ``This is despicable, and must be changed,'' Lerman contends.

She divides her time between her choreography, performance, and community work. She favors subject matter in her work - ``things I'm trying to understand - like the defense budget,'' she says.

Lerman uses text in her presentations, as have each of the other guest artists at this festival. Text has really been part of modern dance since the very beginning, but its use waxes and wanes.

``There are some brilliant people whose work is still about movement, of course, but text is very important again,'' says Kirn. ``Liz's work is content-driven, as is Lucas Hoving's. There's a very direct link between text and movement.''

The work of Steve Paxton and Lisa Nelson incorporates text in a way that most closely resembles conceptual art. ``Conceptual art uses language like a flavoring or a coloring or like rhythm,'' Kirn explains. ``But their work is not just cerebral, as conceptual art is; it's also perceptual - intuitive, improvisational, and feeling-based.

``This is a time when a lot of artists are coming together in interdisciplinary works,'' Kirn continues. ``We don't even have the language to describe these crossovers of disciplines. We call it `new performance' rather than just `performance' because performance art came out of the visual arts, and these works by Lerman, Zaloom, and Hoving, are linked to dance or theater.''

One of the more unusual festival performers is puppeteer Paul Zaloom, whose frenetic pieces attack various forms of urban madness, pollution, and food additives. His routines vaguely resemble a ``Saturday Night Live'' sketch by the late Gilda Radner - with political punch. It may not be dance, but Zaloom is certainly a performance artist whose caustic political humor requires the audience to think about pressing environmental issues.

The Colorado Dance Festival is also underlining the return of jazz tap to the public eye. Tonight's ``Tap/Doo Wop!'' concert features some legendary jazz-tap artists, including James ``Buster'' Brown, Steve Condos, Anita Feldman, Sarah Petronio, LaVaughn Robinson, and Jimmy Slyde. Several of these dancers are well into their seventies, and Kirn, who has brought tap back again and again to Denver and Boulder, found important inspiration for this year's festival among them. ``I never thought of them as senior citizens,'' she says. ``I always thought of them as artists.''