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Under an open sky, dance performances begin in Cambridge’s new Starlight Square

Dancer Mcebisi Xotyeni will perform at Cambridge's new outdoor venue, Starlight Square.
Dancer Mcebisi Xotyeni will perform at Cambridge's new outdoor venue, Starlight Square.Caitlin Klinger

Live dance performances have been scarcer than hen’s teeth this summer due to pandemic restrictions. But this coming weekend, the Dance Complex and Starlight Square are initiating a new series to begin showcasing live dance outside and physically distanced. Though the venue — a parking lot in Cambridge’s Central Square transformed into a multi-use public commons — can be set up to accommodate up to 150 audience members, current Massachusetts restrictions limit outdoor gatherings to 50, so tickets for the free events may go quickly. But it’s a start, and dancers couldn’t be happier to have a substantial real time, in-person platform for sharing their work for the first time in five months.

“We’ve been through such a transformation and are in this liminal space right now looking forward into the unknown in a way that’s quite profound,” says Joy Davis, whose “The Davis Sisters’ Family Gathering, A Comeback Show on the Starlight Stage” opens the series Aug. 28 and 29 at 8 p.m. “It’s a super exciting moment. Folks are doing drive-by art shows, parking garage performances, editing live and prerecorded stuff in different ways. It’s pretty serious grist for the mill that can move things in new directions.”

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Davis and her creative partner, longtime friend Alexander Davis (no relation), are known for their eclectic shows blending dance and theater, usually with a comedic touch. The upcoming multimedia show is structured like a family party to allow room for a variety of creative ideas and additional performers, including flamenco artist Yosi Karahashi and South African dancer Mcebisi Xotyeni. “It explores the idea of mining past artistic practices as a way of navigating forward,” says Alexander Davis. “We’re questioning what we can bring to this moment and trying to physicalize that answer.”

On Aug. 30 at 8 p.m., Callie Chapman’s Studio at 550, along with Boston-based “sonic noise project” Violet Nox, presents “Phoenix,” an evening of original experimental music, dance, and virtual storytelling exploring the theme of alchemy. The band and the four dancers will be masked for social distancing, and a prerecorded video by actors in Western Massachusetts and Austin, Texas, serves as the contextual backdrop for the live performance.

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Between The Dance Complex and Starlight Square’s two other cultural anchors — Central Square Theater and Improv Boston — the plan is to continue hosting performances as well as classes and other community events for as long as the weather cooperates. (The space is screened by temporary metal and mesh walls and sits under an open sky.) The Dance Complex alone is presenting 15 more dates at Starlight Square through October, including The Wondertwins’ acclaimed “Black” and Racines Black Dance Festival. In addition to recording performances for later release, The Dance Complex is exploring possible streaming options as well, all available via www.dancecomplex.org.

So is this the new normal for dance — at least for now? “I feel like we’re reintroducing ourselves to audiences in new ways,” Dance Complex executive artistic director Peter DiMuro says. “It’s a unique experience to see live performance in a walled-in environment looking up at the stars with other people nearby. It’s like being an adolescent on a first date. We need to learn how to be in this new relationship. But it’s important to be out in the public, having that connection, and being able to pay artists for the work they’re meant to do.”

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To see the schedule and register for tickets, visit www.starlightsquare.org.


Karen Campbell can be reached at karencampbell4@rcn.com.