Led by a Cirque du Soleil clown in street clothes, about 15 people spent their Saturday morning dancing and strutting in Stony Run Park. Some twirled parasols. Others walked on stilts.
All were practicing for a planned parade-athon of sorts during this weekend's 30th annual Artscape festival.
"Let's shim-sham," shouted one of the stilt walkers, Paco Fish, swinging his hips and snapping his fingers as parkgoers, including a French poodle, watched curiously.
The occasion was a training exercise organized by Nana Projects, a 17-year-old parade arts studio in Roland Park.Commissioned for Artscape by the Baltimore Office of Promotion & the Arts, the studio, at 4504 Wilmslow Road, will stage a daily series of costumed, 30-minute parades and hour-long, hat-making workshops for the public during Artscape, July 15-17. Workshop participants will be able to march in the parades.
"We're sort of going to be all over the place," said Nana Projects' director and principal artist, Molly Ross, of Hampden, who is best known for her Great Halloween Lantern Parades in Highlandtown. "Almost every hour, there will be a parade somewhere."
It's the second year in a row that Nana Projects is parading around Artscape. Ross and the studio did it last year, too, but with fewer parades than planned this year.
"Since it was the 30th anniversary, we got really excited about upping our game," she said. "And we wanted to have a community aspect to it."
Artscape, a celebration of visual and performing arts that spans 12 city blocks and is centered on Mount Royal Avenue and NorthCharles Street, runs Friday evening, Saturday from noon to 10 p.m., and Sunday from noon to 8 p.m. This year's Artscape has a 1980s theme and Nana Projects will be channeling the 1980s hit movie musical "Xanadu," which starred Olivia Newton-John on roller skates.
Nana Projects' take on "Xanadu" is "Nanadu," which is billed as "a panorama of parades and spectacle (by) Baltimore's legendary purveyors of whimsy," according to a flier from the studio. "Look out for roller skaters, 1980s neon colors and a celebration of cinema in all its glory."
The first parade will be Friday at 9:30 p.m., at Mount Royal Avenue and Oliver Street, followed by fireworks. Workshops will be offered Saturday at noon, 2, 5 and 8 p.m., and Sunday at noon, 2 and 6 p.m., according to the flier.
"Workshops For All ages!" the flier states. "Get hands on and make a crazy futuristic hat and wear it in the parade!"
Each workshop will be followed by a small parade, and each night, a grand finale parade, with a large-scale toy theater, will be held at Mount Royal and Oliver, outside the Fitzgerald Building. Saturday's finale begins at 9:30 p.m., and Sunday's at 8 p.m., according to the flier.
The ringleader in Stony Run Park on Saturday was Elena Day, 41, a high-energy circus clown from Takoma Park, who studied at a mime and movement college in France and spent five years working as a clown in a Cirque du Soleil show in Orlando, Fla.
Day will tour this fall with an unrelated troupe called Cirque Mechanics, which is staging a Wild West circus show, she said.
Day and Ross met at a puppet-making workshop in Orlando, where Day was the master of ceremonies and was wearing "an amazing costume," Ross said. "I said, 'Oh my God, who are you?"
The two have wanted to work together.
Day led the group, trained performing artists and volunteers, through movement exercises designed to teach them expressiveness and make them more comfortable working with their fellow performers.
"You need to be connected with your fellow performers," she said at one point. And at another, she advised, "When you project your energy, it needs to be crystal clear."
The participants, from as far away as Howard County, were thrilled to be in the parade.
""I love it," said stilt walker Laura Woodward, 29, of Columbia, a computer analyst, who was in the Artscape parades last year, too.
"It was so much fun last year," Woodward said. "The adults are more amazed than the children."
Day isn't participating in this weekend's parades, but said, "I want to come out and see them on Sunday."