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A new tradition in Lithia Park

Robin Stiehm, artistic director of Ashland's Dancing People Company, is out to create a new summer tradition in Lithia Park. She and her company will present a program of modern dance performances on Saturday and Sunday, July 23-24, in the park's band shell. The troupe intends to make the shows an annual event.

"People in the community enjoyed Ballet Rogue's performances in the park for more than 25 years," Stiehm says. With last year's demise of the ballet company, there's a missing element in Lithia Park's tradition of summer entertainment.

DPC's "Dance in the Park" will showcase five modern dance pieces — four choreographed by Stiehm and one improvisational piece.

"Modern dance travels more than ballet," Stiehm says. "It's exciting and unpredictable."

"Gritty Interval," a new piece by Stiehm, is inspired by chaos such as natural disasters, she says.

"It's about things we humans don't have any control over and how we cope with them. The choreography in 'Interval' starts by representing the movement of the world and reflects a certain roughness. As the piece progresses, the dancers transition from portraying physical geological forces to portraying people. Their movements begin to soften, and they support each other's weight in a compassionate way," Stiehm says.

Another piece set for this weekend is "Chance Makes Luck," a lovely, sweeping piece built on the idea that chance encounters lead to close relationships, Stiehm says. It's set to the music of Brahms.

One of Stiehm's signature pieces, "Leaving," also is in the lineup. Stiehm first choreographed this piece in 2000 with her dance company in Minneapolis.

"It's a piece I've re-staged for dancers Veronica DeWitt and Alonzo Moore here in Ashland," Stiehm says.

Stiehm performed ballet until her mid-20s with the Minnesota Dance Theatre, then joined a modern dance company called New Dance Ensemble. She began choreographing and founded Dancing People Company in Minneapolis in 1994. The company performed regionally and toured Russia, Poland and the Republic of Belarus.

Stiehm moved to Jacksonville in 2002 and brought dancers from Minneapolis to the Rogue Valley to perform. In 2007, she began hiring local dancers, including Emily Abrahams, Will Cooper, DeWitt and Moore from Ashland. DPC dancers Erin Drummond and Brianno Rae Johnson perform between Minneapolis and Ashland.

A new, yet untitled piece by Stiehm also is on the slate for DPC's shows this weekend.

"It's a fun piece done to music by a rock group called Tune Yards based in Oakland, Calif.," Stiehm says. "It's high-energy and works with images of a rock band. The dancers go on stage as though they're about to perform as a band, and there's a little lip-syncing."

Stiehm says putting the new shows together was a labor of love. Through a grassroots fundraising program, her company was able to raise money to produce them.

"The whole community supported us," Stiehm says. "Along with people from out of town. The support is so important to us."

The free shows start at 6 p.m. Visit www.dancingpeople.com or call 541-488-9683.

Dancing People Company's Veronica DeWitt (foreground), Emily Abrahams and Will Cooper improvise a modern dance piece. - Photo by Keith Williams