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River Dance

Outdoor event connects communities along the Mississippi River.



A single raindrop falling at the headwaters of the Mississippi River takes 90 days to make the more than 2,300-mile trek to the Gulf of Mexico. On Saturday, June 24th, those 2,300 miles will be connected when seven river cities host free, simultaneous dance performances along the river.

One River Mississippi will bring together art, ecology, and community in an effort to celebrate movement, to bring awareness to environmental issues facing the river, and to cultivate a sense of unity. Four years in the making, this event includes the efforts of numerous choreographers, dancers, environmentalists, and ordinary citizens.

"Five years ago, I had this image of thousands of people standing out on bridges over the Mississippi River," says artistic director Marylee Hardenbergh, who has raised funds with site-project managers and received grants from the Unity Avenue and McKnight Foundations to make the event possible. "I love to create beauty. Through the avenue of that beauty, people feel more of a sense of place, more of a sense of belonging in the environment."

The sites include the river's headwaters at Lake Itasca in Minnesota; St. Louis; Memphis; New Orleans; and the mouth of the river located in Plaquemines Parish, Louisiana.

An award-winning artist and dance therapist, Hardenbergh has created large, outdoor, site-specific dance performances for 25 years at wastewater plants, bridges, and even a clock tower on the Volga River in Russia.

For the past nine years, she has coordinated Solstice River, which honors the Mississippi River in Minneapolis, at the city's historic stone-arch bridge. One River Mississippi commemorates the 10th anniversary of Solstice River.

"The whole point of this is for us to understand that for all the communities up and down the Mississippi River, the river is a bridge," Hardenbergh says.

In Memphis, the performance will be on the cobblestones leading down to the river, designed so the audience must view it from Mud Island. The cobblestones are the vantage point representing the history and evolution of Memphis as a port city.

The project was adopted by the Church Health Center, as well as Stax Museum and TheatreWorks. Attention will be brought to the Bluff City's need for environmental cleanup and riverfront preservation. A diverse group of more than 100 participants from Tennessee, Arkansas, and Mississippi have pledged their time, including dancers, canoeists and kayakers, and other volunteers.

While each city's performance will be different, a few basic requirements include aqua choreography with various watercraft and a synchronized finale in which the audience in each city will be asked to participate in singing the word "Mississippi."

"I want everybody to have one second of this physical experience of feeling connected with the other audiences," Hardenbergh says of the finale.

Locally, the dance will be set to music by Booker T. & the MGs, King Curtis, Elvis Presley, and Johnny Cash.

Decorator Bernice Humphrey, 53, has never been much of a dancer, but when she heard a call for volunteers, she knew it was something for her.

"I'm one of the seniors of the group, and moving with young folks, I'm surprising myself," Humphrey says. "It's like therapy for me."

"This is an amazing, creative outlet for the community," adds Southern College of Optometry student Kiley Berry, 24. "This beautiful river flowing through Memphis means a lot to the people as well as the environment it nourishes."

One River Mississippi can be viewed from the Mud Island River Park, starting at 7 p.m., Saturday, June 24th. For more info, go to or call 576-7241.

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