Go Deeper

Invisible River Made Visible

Posted July 9th, 2014
Aerial performance by Alie Vidich and Evan Hoffman in Invisible River, 2013.

Aerial performance by Alie Vidich and Evan Hoffman in Invisible River, 2013.

Invisible River, a 2.5-mile performance of dance, music, acrobats, sculpture installations, and boats, is coming to the Schuylkill River this weekend for the second year in a row. The show, which has two performances, includes 30 performers, 12 tech workers, 245 volunteers, and an estimated 1,300 audience members. The public can view the event from the shores of Kelly Drive for free or purchase tickets to join a moving boat flotilla and see the show from the water.

For Alie Vidich, producing director and choreographer, Invisible River evolved through a natural progression of her work. In 2010, Alie made Constants, a show about the hidden histories of the Schuylkill River—the history of the Underground Railroad on the river, the Lenape Native Americans, Typhoid on the river, and shad fish. Constants had a heavier emphasis on narration, acting, poetry, and song than on dance. By 2012, Alie was formulating new performance ideas, and knew, “I did not want to make another piece about history. The romanticism of the past was driving me crazy; pouring over historical photos tends to do that to a person.” For Invisible River, Alie says, “I was thinking a lot about how to create a positive celebration that drew people to the river and to talk about access to the Schuylkill.”

We caught up with Alie to talk about this weekend’s performance on Saturday, July 12th, and Sunday, July 13th.

FringeArts: Last year you had people hanging off the Strawberry Mansion Bridge. What’s the craziest thing happening this year?

Alie Vidich:We are doing that again! Outside of that I think the whole thing is kind of crazy—65 boats moving together in a flotilla alongside a music boat with live performers, a freestanding abstract sculpture of native birds floating in the river, a choreographic ritual paying homage to summer and the change of seasons, dancers on an island in the middle of the river, dancers in canoes and on paddle boards flowing along the river. When the audience returns to the docks at the end of the show, they will see a chorus of dancers building a landscape by running and flocking in movement that ebbs and flows, creating an ephemeral experience not unlike that which we experience in nature.

Dancers in last year's Invisible River. Photo by Elayne Wishart.

Dancers rehearsing Invisible River, 2014. Photo by Elayne Wishart.

FringeArts: How do you direct and choreograph such a large and diverse event?

Alie Vidich:With a lot of help and time—the turn around time for this kind of event is one year but really it needs a year and half. I think as we get bigger and more experienced it will be easier to do implementation and planning at the same time. I’ve been playing with this in my head for two years now, and it’s finally happening!

FringeArts: I want to know about the boats. Can you take me through the audience experience?

Alie Vidich: There are at least 65 boats committed: 10 dragon boats with teams of 8 paddling the audience on the river, 15 row boats, 42 kayaks, 2 rowing sculls, and possibly a few more kayaks and canoes. You have to purchase a boat ticket to participate in the event. Unfortunately, due to liability and public safety concerns, we cannot let anyone launch their boat in the river and just join in—maybe in the future, but not right now.

The audience arrives and checks in, then everyone goes to their respective stations—dragon boat launch, kayak launch, row boat launch. There they take part in a pre-show safety discussion with watershed educators from Fairmount Water Works Interpretive Center about the river’s currents, daily flow, tides, and the combined sewage overflow that affects it on a regular basis, followed by a short paddling lesson. They launch onto the river and see a floating bird sculpture installation. They hear music from composers, Michael Wall and Jon Yerby in a musical boat that travels alongside them. I can’t tell you the rest because then it wouldn’t be a surprise!

Audiences will also receive a comprehensive map that details the journey they took, the streams and creeks that flow into the river, and the trails that surround the river in Fairmount Park.

Thank you, Alie!

The massive outdoor event takes place this weekend, Saturday, July 12th and Sunday, July 13th. Come to the Schuylkill River for an evening of artistry and environmentalism, dance and nature.

Photo by Elayne Wishart.

Rehearsal for Invisible River, 2014. Photo by Elayne Wishart.

Viewing Information:

The flotilla departs at 6pm from the Dragon Boat Dock at 1233 Martin Luther King Jr. Drive in West Fairmount Park. The assortment of kayaks, dragon boats, skiffs, and rowboats will make a two-mile loop to the Strawberry Mansion Bridge and back.

Free viewing on Kelly Drive starts at 7pm and can be seen from the Rowing Grandstands and the East Park Canoe House parking lot by the Strawberry Mansion Bridge. Audiences are encouraged to bike to the event via the Schuylkill River Trail. Bike racks will be provided.

Boat tickets can be purchased online:


—Miriam Hwang-Carlos and Josh McIlvain