LEWISTON — Dancers rolled, curled into balls and lay motionless on Simard/Payne Memorial Park’s derelict railroad tracks.

In a few minutes, the wet grass soiled the dancers’ clothes. Black flies bit. And another four-member group of dancers threatened to step on them. And yet, with limbs askew, they lay still as choreographer and director Stephan Koplowitz continued a work he hopes will become an avant-garde epic.

His subject: Lewiston.

After months of studying the city using materials unearthed by a pair of Bates College students, Koplowitz hopes to blend a film and a live Bates Dance Festival performance into a work that will evoke the city’s environment, immigration history, industry and architecture.

If it comes together — both money and time are needed — it could be unveiled in Lewiston in 2016.

The film is being shot with about a dozen Bates Dance Festival performers. The world-renowned choreographer and director aims to weave the film and live performance together for audiences in Simard/Payne Memorial Park and inside the Bates Mill complex. Possible approach: Dancers might perform in front of a movie screen and interact with the images being projected.

“I’ve been coming here since 1992,” said Koplowitz, now in his sixth stint as a Bates Dance Festival instructor. “It’s in this decade that I see Lewiston renewing itself. In a way, I think this project could really be the trumpet call to that.”

It might also be a move into the community for a festival that has drawn lots of praise during its 31-year history but has developed a rarefied audience.

“I pride myself on being accessible,” Koplowitz said. “In the end, it’s going to be both fine art and community art. We’re hoping that this is for the community and not just for the Bates Dance Festival audience.”

The work grew out of a growing specialty that Koplowitz has developed over years, creating works that were meant to be seen only in specific locations. He created a 1996 dance for London’s Natural History Museum and a 1998 work for the city’s British Library. The following year, he created a dance in and around a coke factory in the German city of Essen. He also has created numerous works in New York, Washington and Los Angeles. A collection of videos of his work is available online at his website, www.koplowitzprojects.com. and on his YouTube channel, www.youtube.com/user/lanycart.

“I make public art,” said Koplowitz, 58. “I’ve made large-scale public art in big public places from Grand Central Terminal to the British Library. I’m not afraid to tackle iconic places.”

He added, “Lewiston is not as big as New York and London and all of that. At the same time, there’s a certain level of monumentalism that’s going on with this concept.”

And he’s taking the city seriously.

Though he has been coming to Lewiston for more than 20 years, he tasked two Bates College students for five months to learn more. They gathered historical information about the city and the region, and created an online repository of information that Koplowitz studied at his home in Los Angeles.

“I’m not an expert on all of this,” he said. “But I learned what the river means. I have an understanding of what the mills did and what they made, from bedsheets to Civil War uniforms.”

He also studied Lewiston-Auburn’s growth and immigration.

“I know something about the Irish wave and the French-Canadian wave and the tension between the two,” he said.

At the start of the summer, he and Bates Dance Festival Director Laura Faure scouted locations around the city. They tried but failed to get permission to film on the falls separating Lewiston-Auburn.

In the end, they decided on Simard/Payne Memorial Park, the riverbank, the pedestrian bridge between the cities, Bates Mill Nos. 5 and 6 buildings and a few other downtown locations.

About a dozen dancers from around the country — here to learn under the festival’s esteemed faculty — are serving as the cast. They have three weeks, from July 21 to Aug. 8, to plan and shoot the film.

“It’s not (enough) time at all,” Koplowitz said.

Though the project might never go further than the creation of the film if Koplowitz doesn’t get enough funding, dancers said they feel fortunate to take part.

“For me, personally, the payoff is immediate because the payoff is working with Stephan and with the location,” said Becky Kendall, a 33-year-old dancer from Anchorage, Alaska.

Kendall was one of the dancers who spent Wednesday afternoon rolling on the railroad tracks dressed in neutral costumes of cotton shirts and khakis — tracks that once brought French Canadian immigrants from Canada to work in Lewiston’s mills.

Koplowitz’s goal for that shoot was to use the dancers to evoke the many workers who entered the city on the railroad and, for generations, worked in the mills. He said he was also using their bodies as a metaphor for the passage of time.

Dancer Leah Fournier, 23, of Lewiston — who had family who worked in the mills — said she liked seeing the city’s history interpreted by someone from away.

“I’m from here and I know the history of the mills and so on,” she said.

Koplowitz is both accurate and respectful, and it’s been rewarding to watch the dances for the film take shape, she said.

“It’s interesting to be part of his laboratory and see him trying to figure things out,” she said.

The experience of being here and working with Koplowitz will be enough, even if the film doesn’t materialize, she said.

“If you’re a dancer, then you’ve got to like the process,” she said.

There is no certain fate for the film, Faure said.

The festival’s budget won’t cover the project as imagined. Faure figures the eventual need will climb to $80,000 or $100,000.

“We need staffing,” she said. “We need a project manager, a costume designer and a lighting designer.” There would also be costs associated with lights, sound and movie screens.

Fundraising is to begin soon.

“We want to see who in the city will get behind the project,” Faure said.

Koplowitz seemed confident as he filmed in the park, sometimes leaving the cluster of dancers and technical help to see the rails and the bridge from a new perspective.

“Here, we’re dealing with the idea of the old railroad and the bridge and the water,” Koplowitz said. “It’s the lifeblood of Lewiston-Auburn. We’re hitting on these touchstones and allowing people to see them in a new way. It’s not about lecturing on history. It’s about evoking these things.”

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