Before there was music or choreography for “Chance Elements,” there were just words — “right foot swirl,” for instance — that the four dancers involved with the piece by Amy Michele Allen would respond to with spontaneous movement.
“It’s very Merce Cunningham — see what happens,” said Marco Carreon, a member of the quartet that will perform the piece at the upcoming “Dances on the Lakewalk.”
“We each had our own definitions,” Kristen Hylenski, a Duluth dancer with long ties to the program, said of the process.
These individualized dance phrases were collected, edited and rearranged by the California-based choreographer who has been working remotely with the foursome. The result, “Chance Elements,” gets its premiere during the dance showcase that will feature 11 other works by regional and visiting artists. “Dances on the Lakewalk” is at 7 p.m. July 9-10 at Gitchi-Ode’ Akiing (formerly Lake Place Park).
For a recent rehearsal, Carreon and a crew met at the scene of the show — the grassy outdoor stage just off the Lakewalk. They set up a small camera on a tripod, which served as the director’s eye for the run-through. An open laptop was positioned on top of a Block Rocket portable speaker, where Allen was able to pass along her notes — hand positions, the preferred degree of a turn, which shoulder to look over.
“There’s a little bit of drama in that, and I like it,” Allen responded to dancer Brianna Hall after a shift in her movements.
The song, “Lesson 6: The Lecture,” by Jurassic 5, combines the no-frills institutional voice from old-school instructional videos with a 1990s hip-hop beat. The playful piece of modern dance brings to mind superheroes, “Simon Says” and mod fashions.
And if you watch closely, there are touches of humor. Cue Patrick Timmons’ slo-mo facial expressions.
Each of the dancers wears a single bold color: Hall in a red short-sleeved shirt and pants combo still, as of last week, on the hunt for matching shoes; Carreon in blue button-up with same-shade pants and blue boat shoes; Timmons in green shorts, a green shirt, and green shoes that looked like Aqua Socks; Hylenski in yellow — including matching Nikes.
Doris Ressl, then teaching at the University of Minnesota Duluth, started the Freshwater Dance Collective’s “Dances on the Lakewalk” in the mid-1990s as a grand, multiple-day event that showcased works alongside live music.
It was a progressive project staged in the Rose Garden and on the beach — the first year she recalled performing on a staircase.
Even after Ressl left UMD for jobs on the East Coast and later settled into California State University Dominguez Hills, where she is currently department chair, she has continued to return to Duluth in the summer and organize this long-running concert series.
Every year, Ressl said, she emails past participants to gauge their interest and collect new contacts. Her reach is wide — pulling in artists from Los Angeles, the Twin Cities and Duluth.
“It’s not, like, this heavy process,” she said. “It’s, like, ‘You interested?’ ‘Sure.’ Or ‘I should have asked you. Next year.’ This has never been about being on a grand scale and having a huge process.”
The show’s setting, too, is casual: some audience members make an intentional choice to stop by, some wander past and snag a spot on the grass.
“It seems like ‘Lakewalk’ is one of those events that brings people together who haven’t seen each other in a while,” Ressl said. “It’s been great because it’s a social event. Yes, we’re doing art, bridging people together. If they decide to chat while people are going on, that's ok."
For Hall, who studied dance at St. Olaf and has been involved with the local musical theater scene, “Dances on the Lakewalk” fills a gap in the local arts and entertainment programming.
“There’s not a lot of concert dance in Duluth,” she said. “I love that this is free, it’s accessible — and if you don’t like what’s happening, wait a few minutes.”
There is a purposefully eclectic mix of choreography ranging stylistically from ballet to jazz to modern to tap and, mood-wise, from somber to joyful with dancers who self-describe as hobbyists to professionals to up-and-comers.
Alex Loch, a modern dancer with a gymnastics background, is performing “Deer Song” with Erin Sola — an excerpt from a piece he choreographed with the Twin Ports Choral Project set to composer Craig Hella Johnson’s “Considering Matthew Shepard.”
Hall choreographed “All Blues,” which she will perform with Suzie Baer, Jennifer Chladek and Jessie Olson.
Carreon, who is based in Long Beach, California, makes it a point to spend his summers in Duluth — both for “Dances on the Lakewalk” and in some years teaching gigs with other dance companies. He has easily settled into this second home, where he enjoys hiking, some of the destinations that he described as touristy, and the development in Lincoln Park.
Carreon has a background in folk dance, but his first love was jazz. Another interest is zumba.
Dancers from Ignite Studio, where he works out, will be featured in his piece “We Are All.”
In response to the question “why here,” he faced Lake Superior and stretched his arms wide.
“This,” he said. “We don’t have nature like this.”
If you go
“Dances on the Lakewalk,” 7 p.m. July 9-10, Gitchi-Ode’ Akiing, Second Avenue East and East Michigan Street, along the Lakewalk.