With a cool summer breeze on their backs, eight people — seated 6 feet apart — watched as Annie Kent danced gracefully around a small stage mounted on a trailer, accompanied by a singer and a guitarist for a five-minute performance in the Avenues neighborhood of Salt Lake City.
Utahns who miss going to the theater have this new option to bring live entertainment to their homes during the pandemic. SB Dance, a performing arts group in Salt Lake City, is delivering short modern dance performances to Salt Lake and Summit counties.
“It’s professional dancing with joy, and we need that now. It’s really lovely,” said Tessa Epstein, who invited the group to her home in the Avenues last weekend. “It is super exciting; invite some friends over and have a party that you can have in a comfortable way.”
Kent said she enjoys performing outside during the pandemic. “We need more connection, so it’s a way to connect,” she said.
She suggested Utahns make a reservation for a performance to add “a little spice … in their pandemic life, a little joy, something different.”
SB Dance director Stephen Brown said the short performances are “one of the safest ways to both produce and to experience live art right now,” because the audience can’t come within 10 feet of the stage and the performances are all outdoors.
“It’s a lot of fun to do, people like it, it’s gorgeous looking,” Brown said in an interview. “It’s kind of like a little bit of magic.”
Utahns can make a reservation on the company’s website, curbsidetheater.sbdance.com. SB Dance brings live performances to four or five locations in the same general area on Thursdays through Saturdays, between dusk and 10:30 p.m.
Brown said the company will perform for groups of five to 25 people, as long as they practice social distancing.
For Utahns who live in the outskirts of the Wasatch Front, the company needs four to five reservations in the same area on the same night to perform; Brown said they want to reach as many people as possible.
Epstein said she usually watches the dance company, which has been performing for 20 years, in shows at the Rose Wagner Performing Arts Center. But when she received an email about the free at-your-home performances, she said, the opportunity was “irresistible.”
“It’s part of their creativity to find a way to continue to dance even though theater doors are shut, studio doors are shut and look at us, we’re outside … and I feel very comfortable about that,” she said.
Epstein also said she respects the company for performing “Lush Life,” with the dance choreographed to the song by Billy Strayhorn, a successful jazz musician who faced discrimination for being black and gay. Singer Ischa Bee is accompanied by instrumentalist Raffi Shahinian.
“Coinciding with Pride Month, and hopefully the American spring awakening to racism in this country, we can all look forward to a time when being black and gay are not disadvantageous,” Brown added via text. “When being neither of those is not a privilege, and when we can say that’s the way things ‘used to be.’”
The company is booked through the Fourth of July holiday, and it will soon start to open more dates in August, Brown said. He said the company will likely continue the service even once the pandemic passes, so long as it’s financially feasible.
“If this pandemic has you a little bit jolted and has disrupted your life, your mental well-being … I think this is a way of sort of picking up your spirits a little bit,” he said. “Let’s consider this one of the good things that might come out of this pandemic.”
Brown said the outdoor performances don’t bring in much money, but Utahns have been generous with donations, allowing the company to perform for those who can’t donate much or at all.
Donations help replace the income the company usually brings in by charging $15-$20 admission tickets. There is a link to donate $20, $50 or $75 on its website.
Brown said it is important for SB Dance to continue performing during the pandemic. He said the company is trying to send the message that it will adapt, carry on, and continue to exercise its humanity.