Liz Lerman’s first priority is not art. She’s a spiritual teacher, someone who believes in the ancient healing function of dance but also believes it’s been lost in an era when dance is only for young, beautiful, talented professionals (not surprisingly, her company of ten includes four dancers over the age of 50). Clearly a direct and probing person, she loves “pure” dance but argues it communicates inadequately because most people don’t dance themselves and so feel dancing must be “about” something. Hence her “talking dances,” works like Safe House: Still Looking, based on stories from the Underground Railroad and on the dancers’ own thoughts and memories. Lerman is certainly capable of creating dance without words, as she shows in This Is Who We Are, a kind of communal prayer in which her dancers support one another in constantly mutating forms. But in Safe House her humanism overwhelms her judgment: this piece needs editing, and not just because an art object should have a shape–it would communicate better if it repeated itself less. Whatever you may think of Lerman’s approach and its results, she is unquestionably a woman of integrity, someone who was deeply committed to ideas of community long before such ideas were popular (some might say obligatory). She’s doing something unique, and it ought to be seen–and done. Also on the program are Shehechianu and Flying Into the Middle. Thursday-Saturday at 8 at the Dance Center of Columbia College, 4730 N. Sheridan; $14-$16. Call 271-7928 for tickets and info.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): Photo by Beatriz Schiller.