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Dancing in the park

Dancing People Company recently returned from St. Petersburg, Russia, where the Ashland dance troupe represented the United States at the Open Look International Dance Festival.

At the weeklong festival, the company's artistic director Robin Stiehm and dancers Veronica DeWitt, Erin Drummond, Alonzo Moore, Brianna Rae Johnson and Will Cooper taught African, hip-hop and modern dance and performed three pieces choreographed by Stiehm: "Threshold," "Grassfire" and Obstacles to Perfection."

The group will present "Threshold" and "Grassfire," along with "Leaving" and "Mayhem and Memories" and one improvisational piece at its showcase, Dance in the Park, to be held at 6:30 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, July 28-29, at the Butler Band Shell in Lithia Park.

In "Threshold," all the partnering, lifting and rolling happens on a 12-by-12-foot plot of grass, Stiehm says.

"The subject matter deals with the politeness of society and what happens when that breaks down," she says. "As the piece progresses, the dancers (DeWitt, Johnson and Drummond) become less polite and start throwing each other around a bit."

The entire company will participate in "Grassfire," created for the its 2011 Winter Solstice show. Stiehm commissioned local composer Kelvin Underwood to write the music for the piece.

Less confined than "Threshold," "Grassfire" features abstract movements that suggest grass blowing in the wind.

"It's an energetic piece that's evocative of open savannahs but also evokes timeless movements of people in an almost mythological way," Stiehm says.

"Leaving" is the company's signature duet, performed by Moore and DeWitt and choreographed in 1998 to music by Estonian classical composer Arvo Pärt.

The pair also performs a duet in "Mayhem and Memories." The raucous piece was created for DPC's spring fundraiser, but Stiehm recently added three more parts, including a solo for Drummond and an ensemble piece. Dance in the Park will premiere the piece as a whole.

At the end of this weekend's performances, the dancers will participate in an improvisational piece.

"We ask the audience to give us three things to improvise with, and the dancers create a piece to the audience's wishes," Stiehm says. "Last year, the prompts were 'New Orleans,' 'an abandoned building' and 'hot.' "

In 2011, DPC stepped up to perform in Lithia Park after Ballet Rogue took its final bow in 2010, after 26 seasons of Ballet in the Park.

"We perform 30 to 40 shows a year, but this is our favorite because we feel like we're sharing something with people in the community," Stiehm says. "It's open, outside and casual and has a fun feel — kind of like a picnic.

Before Saturday's and Sunday's shows in the park, DPC's new children's ballet instructor, Sarah Lozoff, will lead little ones in movement activities, starting at 6 p.m. in front of the stage.

For more information, see www.dancingpeople.com or call 541-488-9683.

Dancers Erin Drummond and Alonzo Moore perform 'Chance Makes Luck' at the 2011 Dance in the Park. - Photo courtesy of John Wimberley