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Local choreographer Nancy Havlik is in her element outdoors; she finds rhythm everywhere. As she sits on a bench by the C&O Canal in Georgetown, with mules hauling tourists up the water in wooden barges, she watches people pass by and assigns distinct sounds to their various cadences: A woman pushing a stroller, two young guys jogging in perfect unison, a cop swaggering across the water. Her hands capture and play back their tempos. The mundane turns into a symphony that Havlik conducts. “There’s choreography going on all the time,” she says.

Her latest site-specific piece, Taking Sides, a collaboration with composer Jessica Krash, involves five dancers and two saxophonists playing on a brick plaza along the canal. The 15-minute composition starts with the dancers lying down on a flight of stairs in the shape of an X; by the end, they have covered every square foot of space on the plaza, dancing on benches and across bridges. The two women playing saxes stand on opposite sides of the canal, tossing notes and phrases back and forth. “It’s a real stereo piece,” Krash notes.

Havlik likes having little control over the outdoor performance space. “The weather changes from moment to moment,” she observes, “like improvised lighting.” She embraces the sound of the people, the water, the airplanes, the fire engines. “All that actually becomes part of the music,” says Havlik.

“Things always feel out of control in concerts. It’s just more obvious in this situation,” Krash concedes. “You’re always wondering what’s going to happen, even in very traditional concerts. But it’s not as unpredictable as having a mule shit in the towpath.”—Holly Bass

Taking Sides premieres Saturday, June 13, at 3 and 3:30 p.m. on the C&O Canal between Thomas Jefferson and 30th Streets NW.