Once a year, the streets, buildings, playgrounds, lots, and bridges of Station North become one massive stage. Dancers, artists, and musicians spread across the arts district, performing choreography, interacting with audiences, flinging paint, improvising, and telling stories through movement.
This weekend, 17 dance companies and artists will perform site-specific work across multiple indoor and outdoor locations in Station North for the fourth consecutive year. In the past, the Akimbo Dance and Movement Art Festival has brought eclectic performances to the neighborhood, where artists engaged directly with their immediate environment through carefully choreographed group dances, improvisation, audience-performer interaction, and performance art.
"Having art in these spaces that are in Station North but aren't necessarily doing arts programming allows the audience to discover and rediscover the neighborhood in ways that they haven't before," says Sidney Pink, the festival's co-founder, former project director, and current marketing director.
Akimbo grew out of Baltimore's Deep Vision Dance Company, founded and run by dancer and choreographer Nicole Martinell, who serves as the festival's artistic director. As colleagues in the dance department at Towson University, Martinell and Pink organized the first Akimbo festival in 2011, bringing in 18 local dance companies and artists performing various genres, from traditional forms like flamenco and bellydance to modern choreography, as well as art installations. In subsequent years, the project grew in audience numbers, started to include workshops in the festival activities, and established an artist proposal process.
This year's lineup was selected by dance company directors Valerie Branch, Joshua Legg, and Leah Stein, and includes local companies like Deep Vision, Full Circle Dance Company, The Collective, and Baltimore Dance Project, as well as companies and individual performers from outside of Maryland, such as D.C.'s banished? productions and Philadelphia's RealLivePeople.
One of the primary goals of Akimbo, Pink says, is to raise public awareness of Baltimore's dance artists and the greater dance community, not only by bringing the dancers directly to unexpecting audiences (such as drivers on North Avenue), but by allowing multiple companies and individuals to share an equal bill.
Among the list of 17 artists and locations, flamenco performers will take over the Koban Project Police Box, improvisers will perform acrobatic movements on the steps outside of MICA's Fred Lazarus Center, traditional Indian dancers will move within Station North Arts Cafe, and the Station North Tool Library will showcase interactive dance and music.
Several performances will communicate specific narratives and address issues relevant to the site: Deep Vision, for example, will explore the industrial history of the building at 1550 Barclay Street, now the Baltimore Design School, by performing on its front steps. The Baltimore Dance Project, Pink says, intends to play with relationship between space and sound quality by attaching speakers to each dancer's arm, allowing the music to shift in proximity to the audience members as the performers move throughout Gallery CA.
"The stage is only part of where dance, music, theater, all of those things are happening," says Pink. "I mean, they are happening in galleries and on street corners and parks and all these other places. I think that's a reflection of the general Baltimore arts scene, which is that it's partly a lack of resources and venues but also just our innovative spirit, I think, makes us want to naturally do things in unusual places."
The Akimbo Artwalk will take place at multiple locations across Station North on Saturday from 1-6 p.m. The Akimbo Spree, a series of 5-minute highlights from the Artwalk, will take place at the Windup Space on Sept. 16 from 8-9:30 p.m.