Aitkin Age

Relay of voices: The Great River Run


by Lynn Mizner

Victoria Bradford, a self-confessed “water person”, hails from coastal Louisiana. She continues to return frequently from Chicago where she works as a choreographer with her own dance company. She uses creative movement to address social and other issues. When she took up running as a ritual practice, she realized that her practice had to be integrated into her artistic world. Last year she had the idea of running home to Louisiana. As a recent adopter of running, when she had an injury she realized it would be important to pace herself by stopping to connect with communities on the way that have a strong connection with the water. She asked some of her dancers to start training to be runners. That has been going on over the past year. They are running in races now, and continuing to develop their method of relating to running as dance artists. On their Relay of Voices journey in the summer of 2019, they plan to gather the stories of people who have connections to the water as they make their way to the mouth of the Mississippi in Louisiana.

Bradford describes the Relay as, “a multifaceted, serialized performance that connects a team working as dancers, athletes, and researchers with communities across the 2,300-mile length of the Mississippi River.” The Relay of Voices runners will end each day of their run along the Mississippi at a planned stop. They will share their stories, and gather the stories of others who have a relationship with the water that connects them. Bradford and her mother, who is her logistics manager, are currently connecting with communities they plan to visit along the way. There will be a connection to movement in their visits; observing and witnessing, processing and incorporating movement and dance into the larger narrative about the landscape, the communities, and themselves.

The runners

Six runners will make up the team, running about 20-40 miles per day as a relay team, on the Mississippi River Trail and other roads that run close to the River. They plan a mid-late July start from the headwaters in Itasca State Park. The itinerary will be firmed up by August this year. Relay points could be points of interest in the community, where the runners could spend 45 minutes connecting with the community before they run on to pass the baton to the next runner. Runners will be sharing stories through dance and movement, so they will need an open space in which to do that. They can create workshops if appropriate along the way.

Aitkin County Stops

Berglund Park in Palisade will be one stop. As with other planned stops, there will be a welcome and meal served, tentatively followed by a stop at Long Lake Conservation Center (LLCC) the next day.

Lynn Mizner photo: Courtney McDowell, Victoria Bradford, Steve Hughes, Dinah Bradford, and Ross Wagner meet at Long Lake Conservation Center—They are planning Aitkin County’s involvement in the 2019 Relay of Voices.

The success of the Relay of Voices project depends on collaboration with each community; the relay team will need willing storytellers in order to create the narrative as well as to share their stories.

LLCC Connection

Courtney McDowell of LLCC pointed out that the voices of land managers like the people who are involved with LLCC will tell different stories that many of the town and city residents that Bradford and her team will encounter at other stops. Steve Hughes, Aitkin County Soil and Water District Manager, said one story that would be of interest might be how the forests are sustainably managed in Aitkin County, with an emphasis on the connections between forestry and water quality. Aitkin County is taking steps to enhance buffers along the Mississippi River to protect water quality.

Community contacts needed

Workshop ideas are still being developed, but there is potential to have the Relay of Voices coincide with other river-related activities in June and July, such as the Rivers and Lakes Fair and Riverboat Days in Aitkin. Contact Victoria Bradford at victoria@ahouseunbuilt.com or 337-794-8222 to become part of the contact team in Aitkin County.