Selective Focus: Naomi Christenson

Naomi Christenson dances, paints, designs and more. On July 13th and 14th, she’s dancing in Dances on the Lakewalk in Lake Place Park at 7 pm, an event organized by Doris Acosta of Freshwater Dance Collective. This week in Selective Focus, she tells about the event, and how her visual art and dancing abilities work together.

I work in a variety of mediums, from painting to fabric design to dancing. At the moment, I’m all about tap dancing! I’m not 100% clear how I first knew I wanted to tap, but I suspect it had something to do with watching someone else do it and thinking “That looks SO fun, I want to do it too!”. I’ve taken all kinds of technique classes in tap over the years, but only in the last few years have I worked on my own choreography in it. I think the more you create in any art form, the more you’re able to see your unique voice and style develop. I would say my tap style is playful and rhythmic.

2017 Dances on the Lakewalk show, “Into the ocean” Choreography by Naomi Christenson, Performances by Erin Tope, Andrea Smith, Nicole Elisian and Naomi Christenson, Costume design by Naomi Christenson

I’ve spent a lot of time in tap shoes over the last 25 years. I enjoy lots of different kinds of dancing, so at times I leave one form alone while focusing on another. But I definitely boomerang back to my favorites, of which tap is one!

It’s always challenging to make something new. With tap, I think the biggest challenge is starting. The first combination I put together for a piece will define the vibe for everything that follows. Once that first combination is set though, I have a lot of fun building on top of it, adding, modifying and putting together interesting and playful patterns that compliment and contrast. This year is the first time I’ve created tap choreography to be danced with others, and that is a different experience. I’ll have an idea in my head of how it will come together, but until it’s in their feet, it’s just an idea. When we all have it and we’re dancing together, that’s a pretty big reward right there! It’s so ridiculously fun to do and that fun just gets multiplied when you get to do it with friends. It’s also really rewarding to perform a new piece and watch the audience enjoy it right along with you. I think of tap as a very social form of dancing; when you’re tapping and you’re able to make eye contact with your audience, you feed off each other’s enjoyment and it’s just great.

2017 Dances on the Lakewalk show, “Into the ocean” Choreography by Naomi Christenson, Performances by Erin Tope, Andrea Smith, Nicole Elisian and Naomi Christenson, Costume design by Naomi Christenson

We’ll be dancing in Lake Place Park, July 13th and 14th at 7pm. It’s a free show for the public in the elevated park between downtown Duluth and the waterfront. You get an outstanding view of Lake Superior while watching a wide variety of dances from local and visiting choreographers. You can see full details of the event on Facebook and I put little preview teasers of our piece on my Instagram account and you’ll also find out about future shows if you follow me.

Fabric design for dance costumes – the making of dancing octopi! I painted a tentacle, scanned it, manipulated the color for a couple variations, and printed them on fabric to create the octopus costumes.

If you’re interested in supporting Dances on the Lakewalk, we also have a Gofundme page setup to help us cover all our costs and pay our artists. It takes a lot to put together a show like this and we welcome community support.

One challenge that I’m always working through is finding the best areas of overlap between the different media in which I work. I have many times worked paintings into fabric design, then I wear those fabrics while dancing, but now I’m trying to see if I can reverse that sequence to see what happens. One way I’m experimenting with is creating choreography, and then trying to create paintings inspired from the movement or rhythms. I haven’t worked out the details on that, but it’s a really interesting challenge. Who knows, it may show me a whole new path to creating art. Or it may not work at all! That’s part of the fun/challenge to being an artist though. You have to be willing to try a new approach, using the gifts and resources you at your disposal, to create something new. My hope is to create a new body of work for 2019 around this concept, more to come!

2016 Dances on the Lakewalk show, “Swing it” Choreograph, performance and costume by Naomi Christenson






Dances on the Lakewalk Go Fund Me Page

This is one of my favorite fabric designs. I painted a hen and chicks succulent and manipulated the image digitally in creating a fabric design. I print many of my paintings on fabrics for wearable art (available in my Etsy store), and it just seemed fitting for the piece.

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