Bridge Dance Overcomes Troubled Waters

Merilyn Jackson, For The Inquirer
Posted: Tuesday, June 18, 2013, 3:01 AM

Last weekend's Invisible River - an aerial dance/music project to be staged under and around the Strawberry Mansion Bridge by Alie Vidich & the Brigade - nearly became Invisible Dance.

Though Vidich and her team had worked for eight months to secure permits through the Fairmount Park Special Events Office, the bridges division of the City Streets Department, and the state Fish and Boat Commission, no one told them they also needed to notify the Office of Public Safety. Which meant that on Friday, as the troupe prepared for an on-site rehearsal, police warned them that if they attempted to mount the bridge, they'd be arrested.

But Vidich and her supporters aimed to fly. Through Facebook, Twitter, phone, and e-mail they contacted Gary Steuer, the city's chief cultural officer, and his deputy Moira Baylson, who scrambled to clear the runway. The result: On Sunday evening, as a rain shower ended and spectators began arriving at St. Joseph's Boathouse, Vidich, Evan Hoffman, and lead rigger Daniel Porter began crawling up the center beam of the first of the bridge's four bowstring arches. It took half an hour to ensure the harnesses and wiring would safely suspend the two.

Soon a choir of vocalized vowel sounds by Elliott Harvey wafted from speakers, as nine dancers paced the parking lot and ran through the crowd toward the pair, now dangling midway between the Schuylkill and the apogee of the arch.

With rosy clouds blushing across blue sky behind them, they swooped into backbends that echoed the bridge, one or the other lowering toward the water. They x-ed and windmilled their bodies, drew close to each other, kicked away, extended one leg upward, arms reaching for the water, or rested limbs on one another. A canoe hovering behind one of the piers began to move toward them. As the sun set, they slowly descended into the water and swam to the riverbank. Cheers erupted from the crowd as the idyllic imagery ended.

Vidich wants to open the river and its banks "to create an annual Schuylkill River performing arts festival that advocates for public swimming access in the river." She has proven that this kind of aerial work can be done safely and beautifully. Even the police officers on hand, quizzical at first, seemed, by the end, entranced.

Additional performance: 8 p.m. Sunday, 2200 Kelly Dr., next to St. Joseph's University Boathouse in Fairmount Park.