PREVIEW Liz Lerman is one gutsy woman. Early in her career she decided that there is more to dance than working with highly trained performers for an audience that wants to be entertained. "There was a time when people danced and the crops grew," she told a conference of arts presenters 15 years ago. "They danced, and that's how they healed their children." For Lerman, the primary function of dance is to heal and create communities. Not only has she taken her Dance Exchange company to parks, schools, and nursing homes, she has included so-called non-dancers in her performances. Today such efforts have become fairly commonplace, except they are usually considered ancillary outreach activities. For Lerman, making "dance of, by, and for the people" as it has been called is the foundation of her work. She often weaves spontaneous audience suggestions into her pieces. Older dancers (i.e., over 60) and dancers with disabilities are part of her company. And she doesn't shrink away from big topics. In 2006 she brought Ferocious Beauty: Genome to Yerba Buena Center for the Arts. A hugely ambitious collaboration between artists, scholars, and scientists, this multimedia work explored the forces that had been unleashed with the mapping of the human genome. This weekend she is returning with an equally far-reaching project. Small Dances About Big Ideas was commissioned by Harvard Law School for the 60th anniversary of the Nuremberg trials. It looks at atrocities, the law's ability to address genocide, and our capacity to be either "bystanders" or "up-standers."
LIZ LERMAN DANCE EXCHANGE Sat/18-Sun/19, 8 p.m., $28-$36. Jewish Community Center of San Francisco, 3200 California, SF. (415) 292-1233, www.jccsf.org/arts