Talk about your intimate performance — Urbanity Dance’s upcoming “Go stop listen. Still wait go” has the concept down. It’s one of the company’s signature dance “crawls,” designed to allow audience members to see a series of short vignettes at 11 different outdoor locations in the South End. Though it involves more than 50 artists in total, each mini-performance unfolds for a group of up to six people at a time, creating a more direct engagement between performers and audiences.
“It’s an immersive, moving experience,” says Urbanity board chair Anmol Mehra. “You’re in small groups and much closer to the performers, so it’s disarming, a different way to be an observer, to be part of the show. It brings us together rather than being separated by a stage, and that’s pretty powerful.”
And this time around, the dance crawls kick off Urbanity Dance’s 10th anniversary season. Led by founder Betsi Graves, the company began as a small group of friends who wanted to make dances together. Today it’s a community-based nonprofit that boasts four studio spaces in three locations that serve Urbanity’s professional company and its school with 500 youth and adult students. Urbanity also supports community programming, which includes neighborhood partnerships, dance curricula for Boston Public Schools, and Dance with Parkinson’s, a movement program designed to enhance the quality of life for those living with the disease.
“We consider ourselves an arts services organization ... interested in how we can create a ripple effect with other creators,” Graves says. “We want to lift up other artists and to support dance in Boston. [That’s] a huge part of our vision as we celebrate 10 years and look forward.”
The dance crawls have helped Urbanity establish a distinctive artistic profile, especially within the South End community. Graves says they’re a way not only to more directly engage audiences but also to activate the neighborhood, from parks and playgrounds to schools and community centers. “I want people to see dance everywhere, to see space in a different way in our neighborhood,” Graves says. “Part of the show is considering the layers of history in the spaces. For instance, the South End Burying Ground — people walk by that all time and may not even know it’s there, so we’re drawing awareness to layers of history.”
The events also have inspired collaborations among dancers, musicians, storytellers, and poets. In addition to Urbanity’s professional company and creative class, featured artists in the upcoming crawl include Ars Poetica, Afrobeats Dance Boston, Tim Hall, The Lotus Sound, and Valerie Stephens, among others.
Careful planning and timing are required, with each vignette repeated roughly every five minutes as one pod after another arrives. The evening begins near Blackstone Square Park, with each pod of viewers led to the stations along a specific route, and it ends at Urbanity’s Harrison Avenue studio.
Graves says, “Unlike the Porchfest idea where you can go where you want, this is a predetermined pathway for the audience that’s incredibly timed to the minute.” It’s designed to be ADA accessible over level ground with a chair provided at each location for anyone who might need it. The performance schedule also offers several ticketed time slots designed for people who need additional walking time. All viewers will be asked to wear masks and maintain a safe distance from one another.
For performers, the experience of two hours of continuous engagement, repeating a vignette over and over, can be exhausting. But Graves says that performers feed off the energy of each new audience. Urbanity dancer Meg Anderson agrees. “Each audience that views the material brings with them their own energy,” she says. “That makes each moment feel new and exciting. With the audience being so close, performers get a real human connection, something we’ve been missing so much with the pandemic.”
For ticket holders, the crawl is a curated journey from start to finish. But because it’s outdoors, anyone might wander by and catch a glimpse of a dance. For Urbanity, that’s part of the evening’s fun. “You never know who may discover a passion for it. We’ve had people discover a performance by accident, then buy a ticket for the next night.”
The crawls begin at 1511 Washington St., Sept. 23-25. Start times range from 6 to 7:25 p.m. Timed tickets cost $25 and can be booked in advance at www.urbanitydance.org or onsite if available.
Karen Campbell can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.