Choreographer Meryl Murman was fascinated by lipstick while growing up in a conservative community in Cleveland, Ohio. "I didn't wear it to be pretty or at times that were appropriate," she says. "I wore it to be disruptive and in ways that felt grotesque."
In exploring her Lebanese heritage — her grandparents immigrated to North Carolina — Murman found stories by Lebanese writers that focused on the lips, such as feminist and activist Mai Ghoussoub's "Red Lips." While developing the dance piece The Lipstick with the group Flock, she drew on issues of confined spaces and transgression, and lipstick became an iconic marker, reflecting gender and sexuality as well as a broader idea of crossing boundaries. It helps her explore how, among successive generations of immigrants, body images and adornment represent distinctions between traditional versus modern, orthodox versus rebellious, old versus new world.
In March, Murman and Rebecca Crenshaw, who composed and performs the piece's original music on violin, developed The Lipstick in a camp for Middle Eastern refugees in Greece. The whole company worked on the piece in Berlin, at a time while Germany is torn over acceptance of refugees from the humanitarian crisis in Syria and surrounding nations.
Murman has lived in New Orleans since 2007, and she developed The Lipstick during an artist residency at Dancing Grounds, where Contemporary Arts Center (CAC) Director Neil Barclay saw a workshop version. The hourlong piece debuts at the CAC, and Murman hopes to take the work on tour.