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Published: Thursday, 8/30/2007

Arts fest to make splashy debut

Practicing are dancers, from left, Roni Briggs, Madeline Irmen, Carol Mahn, Allison Kodeih,
Leah Lederman, Susan Hedler, Nicole Heitger-Shetterly, Julia Irmen, and Debbie Denko.
Practicing are dancers, from left, Roni Briggs, Madeline Irmen, Carol Mahn, Allison Kodeih, Leah Lederman, Susan Hedler, Nicole Heitger-Shetterly, Julia Irmen, and Debbie Denko.

The mythical phoenix arose from its own ashes, and Carol Mahn hopes to coax a phoenix of sorts from the reflecting pool at One SeaGate this weekend.

Mahn, who performed in the 1990s with her troupe Dance Image Dance Company in the same place during the RiverFest presented by CitiFest, wants not only to resurrect the performances but also resuscitate a downtown arts festival over the Labor Day weekend.

"I stopped doing the performances because the weekends stopped being an arts festival," Mahn, 53, said.

So Mahn put out a call for artists for what she hopes is the first of many events called Artists on the River Festival.

At least 18 artists who use various media will gather inside the auditorium to showcase their arts, either from the stage or from artists' booths, Saturday from noon to 6 p.m. and Sunday from noon to 5 p.m.

Mahn initially just wanted to revive the Performance in the Pond series with her newly re-formed Harmony, a Company of Dancers. But in June, when she approached the managers of the property, they suggested building the dance around an arts festival.

"I knew I could bring that performance to the space without anything else," she said. "They were thrilled for the Performance in the Pond but [property managers] asked what I could do to bring an art festival down there."

Mahn said she was unprepared for the enthusiastic response from artists. "Surprisingly, there are a lot of artists who've missed Labor Day weekend downtown. They miss the gathering of artists downtown," she said. "Citifest Riverfest's Toledo festival of the arts became less and less of an arts festival."

Mahn said when Citifest's Labor Day activities became a one-day event and were moved away from downtown to the river, the artists found themselves without appropriate places to perform their craft.

Artist Nanci Shufritz, 49, who casts leaves in cement and then paints them for jewelry and other items for a business she calls Nanci's Creative Casting, is among the artists who are excited to be participating in the event.

While she wasn't an artist during the last festival, she remembers going downtown for art festivals. And now that she is "graduating from craft shows to art shows," she is excited to be part of the inaugural group.

"I just felt like it would be nice to be part of something that is starting up again," Shufritz said. "I've worked downtown for 22 years. I'd like to see a little more activities down here."

Activities will include live stage performances by poets, a traditional American string band, a rock-funk band, an acoustic trio, an acoustic singer-songwriter, and a hip-hop artist.

And performances titled "Phoenix in the Pond" by Mahn's dance troupe.

Mahn said she hopes the water in the pool can be kept knee-deep, the proper depth to do what she calls "choreographed splashing."

She said the troupe - seven original members and two from other companies - will dance to music that includes songs by New Age singer Loreena McKennitt. "I go by the music that moves me," Mahn said.

However, moving to the beat is a little more difficult after the passage of nearly a decade.

"What your mind can remember your body forgets," she said. "We all went through that for a couple of months."

The other dancers are not from professional companies.

"Every one of these women have children at home, careers, in school, or both, so dance is something they keep in their lives, but they are not professional dancers," she said.

As for whether the Artists on the River Festival will be repeated, that, she said, remains to be seen.

"It all depends on how the community accepts this and how it grows from here now that people aren't used to coming downtown on Sundays."

Most of the live performances will be inside the main auditorium at Fifth Third Center at One Seagate. Admission is free, but space is limited. Fliers will be available onsite listing performance times. The other artists will be in the main lobby. Food and beverages will be for sale. Information: 419-324-4705.

Contact Heather Denniss at hdenniss@theblade.com

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