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Izzi LieberPerson, ready for Dov.EXPAND
Izzi LieberPerson, ready for Dov.
Courtesy of Pioneer Winter

In Dov, a Young Basketball Player Bares His Soul Onstage

Izzi LieberPerson talks to the beat of his own basketball.

Through hours of rehearsal, the 13-year-old rarely stops dribbling, the punch of ball against floor reverberating throughout the intimate studio next to Miami Theater Center. Even when he's not performing — when he's talking, or laughing, or just passing the time until rehearsal begins — the basketball keeps moving, threading between his legs, bouncing high into the air, spinning on the tip of his finger. At first it's distracting, but in time you don't even really notice it. It's like an extension of LieberPerson himself.

That connection to basketball, and the way it frames LieberPerson's view of the world, forms the foundation of Dov, a dance performance by a kid straddling the line between youth and adulthood. Created by acclaimed Miami choreographer Pioneer Winter, the work is a portrait, a documentary in dance form, letting audiences into the world of one unique individual as he grapples with one of life's most profound transitions.

Not that LieberPerson will tell you that. "Most of [the moves came from] me saying, 'Hey Pioneer, look at this!'" he laughs. "And he'd say, 'That's pretty cool; can you do that again?'"

In Dov, a Young Basketball Player Bares His Soul Onstage (3)
Pioneer Winter

Commissioned by MDC Live Arts, Dov will be paired with Blasting Pixels, created by Claudio Marcotulli, as a double-bill at the MDC Live Arts Lab this weekend. The 20-minute performance shows LieberPerson performing a mix of athletic stunts and dance moves as a recording of his voice describes his family history, explains the importance of teamwork, and grapples with concepts of fairness and privilege. LieberPerson's not a trained dancer; this is the first time he's ever done anything like this. His closest experience, he says, was attending a musical theater camp, where he "got in trouble for saying everyone else's lines." 

But his mother, MDC Live Arts managing producer Jenni Person, mentioned to Winter that she'd like him to choreograph something for her son. "He moves like a dancer," Winter recalls her saying. He agreed, and soon he and LieberPerson were spending hours in the studio, first talking about the broad themes and goals of the work they wanted to create, and later nailing down specific moves, recording LieberPerson's voice-overs, and assembling props like a marker, a bear mask, and of course, a basketball.

"Most of the conversations we had were with him dribbling the ball around," Winter remembers. "I was joking with someone that even when we aren't in rehearsal, I can still hear that ball dribbling."

Pioneer Winter in rehearsal.EXPAND
Pioneer Winter in rehearsal.
Courtesy of Pioneer Winter

Dov takes its title from the Hebrew word for bear. It's a reference to LieberPerson's grandfather, who loved the animals, but it's also a metaphor for its performer, and for men in general. "Humans are like bears," explains Winter. "When they're young, they can be very cute. But when they grow, they can grow into something that is very much a beast."

The work situates LieberPerson somewhere between cub and papa bear. Many of its moves are named for bear-like actions: the claw, the swipe, the scratches. LieberPerson lumbers out of the darkness in a bear mask, skitters across the floor, and even unleashes a raw, heartbreaking roar. It's a challenging performance; LieberPerson grunts and gasps as he powers through the choreography. Through it all, the beat of the basketball marks time against the rehearsal room floor, an irregular, booming, ticking clock.

If you're thinking it would take a special kind of 13-year-old to get on a stage and bare his soul to strangers, you're right. LieberPerson shows little of the awkwardness you'd expect of a stereotypical teenager. He moves unselfconsciously, nonchalantly shares his opinions, and spoke easily and willingly with a reporter he'd just met.

And the experience of creating Dov wasn't entirely foreign. LieberPerson spends at least four hours each day playing basketball, so he knows how to move gracefully and athletically. And Winter has experience working with students, as well as nontraditional dancers; he's built his career on choreographing for queer performers, performers of color, and performers with disabilities and other bodies that don't fit the strict, traditional norms of the dance world.

But Dov is also unlike anything either of them has done before, or will ever do again. LieberPerson says he's glad he's had this experience, but part of him will be relieved to return to focusing exclusively on basketball after this weekend's performances. And Winter knows he'll never be able to replicate this dance again.

"I see Dov as an opportunity to create a dialogue between a 13-year-old and his audience while he is still 13, rather than trying to capture his voice later, or to pretend [with another dancer]. Only Izzi can do it. His voice is the voice-over. Everything... is his own words.

"It's ephemeral, and we're really talking about something that's time-sensitive," he adds. "If we waited a year to do this, his answers may change. His voice will definitely change. His basketball skills will change. We'll never have this version of him again."

Dov and Blasting Pixels. 8 p.m. Thursday, February 7, and Friday, February 8, at MDC Live Arts Lab at MDC’s Wolfson Campus, Bldg. 1, first floor, 300 NE Second Ave., Miami; mdclivearts.org. Tickets cost $10.

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