Urban Bush Women ready to bring energy, activism to Berkshires

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A grassroots coalition of cultural and educational groups have joined together through a $20,000 initiative to motivate county residents to move their bodies and minds this summer.

The Urban Bush Women dance company and activism collective will travel from Brooklyn, N.Y., to take up a four-week residency in the Berkshires through early July. Starting on June 21, the troupe will offer a series of free community workshops throughout the county; lead a young women's empowerment-through-dance program and a dance party at the Crowne Plaza in Pittsfield, and be featured in a variety of talks, demonstrations, classes and other special events based at Jacob's Pillow Dance Festival in Becket.

"Bold, fierce, athletic, strong, honest, inquisitive, determined, artistic and hopeful," are the adjectives the dance company uses to define who Urban Bush Women are; the company also includes men.

The dancers hail from a variety of U.S. cities, and have performed internationally, earning acclaim for its high-energy, highly choreographed approach to the use of cultural expression as a catalyst for social change.

"They're amazing, and they're coming to the Berkshires. This is a huge collaboration between North, Central and South County," said Jen Glockner, director of Pittsfield's Office of Cultural Development, which hosted a press conference Tuesday morning to announce the project.

Other partners in this project include Berkshire Children and Families; Berkshire Music School; the city of Pittsfield, including Pittsfield Public Schools; the Flying Cloud Institute; Lift Ev'ry Voice festival; the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art, and the Olga Dunn School of Dance.

The connection between the county and Urban Bush Women came about through a conversation between Shirley Edgerton — who is chairing the subcommittee responsible for getting the dance company here — and Jonathan Secor, former director of the North Adams-based Berkshire Cultural Resource Center, who now works as a producing partner for Urban Bush Women.

"I could not be more thrilled and delighted than to have my new colleagues, the fierce folks that are Urban Bush Women, come up to my old stomping grounds, the Berkshires," Secor said in a press statement.

Edgerton, who also leads the Rites of Passage and Empowerment (ROPE) mentoring program for adolescent girls and young women, said the fact that Urban Bush Women focuses on leadership and women's empowerment throughout their company resonated with her. It also resonated with the Berkshire residency stakeholders.

"Everyone we asked to get involved said yes," she said.

The community workshops are sponsored locally through grants and donations, while the residency programming at Jacob's Pillow has received "generous funding" from The Ford Foundation.

Women and men, from teenager on up, are able to register for the free community dance workshops, organized by Lift Ev'ry Voice, on a first-come basis. No dance experience is necessary.

Participants will also be invited to a picnic event at Jacob's Pillow with the Urban Bush Women artists.

Workshop times and dates are:

• From 2 to 4 p.m., Tuesday and Wednesday, June 21 and 22, in the Hunter Center at Mass MoCA in North Adams

• From 10 a.m. to noon on Thursday, June 23, at Olga Dunn Dance Studio, 46 Castle St., in Great Barrington

• From 11 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. at Jacob's Pillow, 358 George Carter Road, in Becket

Online registration for the dance workshops is available at http://liftevryvoice.org/ubw

There are also still spots open for teen women, ages 15 to 18, who are interested in participating in the Core Teen Group empowerment program. The group will meet at various times daily, from June 21 through June 27 (no program June 26), and includes transportation and a behind-the-scenes educational and dance experience and picnic at Jacob's Pillow.

Email sedgerton@pittsfield.net or call Glockner at 413-499-9348 to register.

Everyone will be invited to the free "How We Got to the Funk Dance Party," which starts at 7 p.m. on June 25 at the Crowne Plaza in Pittsfield.

As for the Jacob's Pillow components, Thasia Giles, manager of community engagement and public programs for the dance festival, said, "This collaborative with Urban Bush Women will allow Jacob's Pillow to deepen its engagement and connection with community members who might otherwise not be able to participate in this kind of experience."

Urban Bush Women have appeared at the festival six times before. This time around it will be expanding its outreach through the vision and presence of Urban Bush Women founder/visioning partner, Jawole Willa Jo Zollar, who will be on hand for most of the programs.

"Urban Bush Women is at the forefront of creating work and programs that intertwine performance, community and social activism," said Jacob's Pillow Managing Director Andrea Scholler in a written statement.

From June 27 through July 10, the public can see what this looks like for free as it rehearses at the Jacob's Pillow School the program, "Improv Traditions & Innovations: From Ring Shout to Blues to Jazz."

Urban Bush Women will also perform this for free on the Pillow's Inside/Out stage at 6:15 p.m. on July 2 and 9.

Said Lift Ev'ry Voice leader Sandra Burton of the troupe and how it will affect the Berkshires, "They show us how using the body can allow you to connect with ideas and fellow citizens."

For a full list of events and registration forms, visit https://www.discoverpittsfield.com/ubw-berkshire-residency-schedule


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