- Muscle and Mortar:
- Animating Architecture
Reviewed by Hunter Styles
The massive atrium of the National Building Museum is deserted as audience members step inside. Echoes bounce to the far walls
across an expansive carpeted floor, bare except for some benches and a sparkling fountain in the center. Then, in a silent instant, thirty-four sprightly performers from the Liz Lerman Dance Exchange flow forward from the brickwork. The building itself is the stage, just as the human frame itself is the performance’s medium.
This is intimately site-specific work, with dancers blending their forms into carpets, up columns, and along corridors. Envisioned by guest artist Christopher Morgan, Muscle and Mortar is a thrilling, elegant love letter to this venue, and to all architectures that hum with the public rhythms of our urban lives.
Barefoot, the dancers encircle the central fountain with meditative calm. Around the fountain they raise their arms in reverential unison. Then, seamlessly, each dancer begins a lovely series of stretches and gestures. The theme is clean and simple: Muscle is mortar; skeletons are scaffolds. We are that which we inhabit. Thus, with a quiet grace, the company embodies the most captivating heights and behaviors of the museum itself.
Brain work aside, it’s damn fun to watch. The museum seems to give back, supplying layer upon layer of acoustic reverb and natural light. No fun to give away the rest of the game, but suffice it to say that the show is interactive, and a trip through the museum with these dancers is bound to generate some fun and provocative new viewpoints.
The Liz Lerman Dance Exchange makes democracy look easy. Here, individual expression is met with curious and supportive eyes by the group. Synchronized movement, rather than being the norm, is reserved for pivotal moments, such as group transitions into new sequences. By the end of the show, perspectives have been flipped several times over, and previously unseen details of the museum’s architecture have been lovingly investigated from all angles.
The company finds plenty of whimsy to go around. Dancers are not afraid to speak, and at moments their voices work to great effect. Some occasionally run out of sight, only to appear again right behind the audience member who’s paying the least attention. Darting between Corinthian columns, they seem to play classical Muses. In other moments they seem something more elemental – waves of hazy light or particles of pounded dust. Might they also be ghosts? It’s a simplistic notion, but this group is also hauntingly transient. Their echoed voices sound like memories even at the moment they are spoken.
This process of live discovery rests at the core of the company’s vibe: namely, a disarming generosity toward its audiences. Show after show, their efforts amount to an eager, compassionate exploration of how all humans collaborate, every day, in physical movement. So when we are asked to join in, we don’t think twice.
Liz Lerman Dance Exchange achieves something magical this weekend. Catch them while you can.
- Running time: approx. 90 minutes
- Tickets: Muscle and Mortar
- Remaining Shows: Sat, July 26 at 2 . Sat, July 26 at 4
- Where: The National Building Museum, 401 F St. NW