“Hallelujah! In Praise of Paradise Lost and Found” isn”t going to be your normal Saturday night Power Center dance performance. Some of the performers are professional dancers from Liz Lerman Dance Exchange, which itself contains dancers from ages 20 to 70 others are students from the Winans Academy of Performing Arts in Detroit, Marygrove College, the University of Michigan dance department and the Hannon House. The project is also unique because it is the culmination of a year and a half”s work in the Detroit and Ann Arbor areas.

Paul Wong
The Liz Lerman Dance Exchage dance divinely for their Ann Arbor performance.<br><br>Courtesy of UMS

“Hallelujah! In Praise of Paradise Lost and Found” is the Detroit portion of Lerman”s national project, “Hallelujah! In Praise of.” Each community where LLDE takes residence develops its own sense of praise. And every community provides a different history and experience that allows for the development of the project.

Phrases of choreography appear across the nation in different forms, performed differently by the dancers everywhere. LLDE dancer Margot Greenly said, “Aspects of the movement travel it might be 30 seconds of material. Each time, people learning material helps us develop and change it and make it work for this piece.”

The community partners are chosen after talking with the presenter, in this case the University Musical Society. Winans Academy and Hannon House were adopted because the troupe worked with Professor Joyce Meier, who was collaborating with these schools. Last year, LLDE dancers joined University students plus the children and elders they worked with at Winans and Hannon houses in dance classes.

The idea of “Paradise Lost and Found” came from LLDE”s experience of working with the Rudy Hawkins Singers. Choir director Rudy Hawkins” godmother was a chorus girl in the Detroit neighborhood of Paradise Valley. Greenly said Lerman began researching this neighborhood and inquiring about people who would be interested in working with the project. Lerman also looked to Milton”s “Paradise Lost” for the structure of the piece.

The dancers range in age from 11 to 80, that being Rudy Hawkins” godmother, Beatrice Buck. “I think that the reason we include people of all different ages is that people with a wide variety of backgrounds can lend their own information to the project. It”s about experience,” said Greenly. In all, roughly four generations will contribute in Tomorrow”s performance.

On the Michigan end of the project, dancers from the U-M dance department auditioned to take part in the performance. Also, Professor Meier”s classes worked with students from the Winans Academy on their writing skills. Meier”s students were also able to participate in classroom dancing with LLDE dancers and were encouraged to look at details of their lives and begin to incorporate movement.

“Hallelujah!” is a project entirely out of the ordinary in the dance world. Residencies normally last three days and are spent in tech rehearsals. The long stay in the area and the many visits of the dancers have given them a chance to feel part of the community, giving them a second home and the opportunity to develop long term relationships.

For those who have never witnessed a dance performance, Greenly said, “Everybody walking in the door will see piece from their own eyes and experience. It is important to trust your own instincts in that way. Whatever you get is what you get. Trust that and value your own journey through the piece.”

The tragedy of September 11 has had a profound effect on the direction of the show. “From day one the piece has been influenced by our experience the audience will walk in affected by this past month as well,” Greenly said. “Paradise lost and found is a godsend of a theme. How do we feel as a culture? We”ve lost paradise, what do we remember? How do we appreciate our paradises, and how will we work towards captivating a sense of paradise again?” Tomorrow night, the Liz Lerman Dance Exchange will help us answer that question.

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