Dance Group Hosts Flash Mob in Great Barrington
By Ruth Melville
On a frigid evening last December, the streets of Great Barrington were crowded with holiday shoppers taking part in the town’s annual Holiday Stroll. Slowly, a group of about 30 people—kids, teenagers and adults, gathered at the foot of Railroad Street. At first, nobody paid them much attention, but then a boom box started playing the first notes of Justin Timberlake’s “Can’t Stop the Feeling,” and the group spread across the intersection, dancing together to the irresistible beat of the music. Realization dawned among the passersby—“It’s a flash mob!”—and the shoppers gathered round, toes tapping.
That public performance was the brainchild of a new dance group in Great Barrington, Mass., called Moving Arts Exchange (MAX). Founded only six months ago by two friends, dancers Ellen Gorman and Andrea Blacklow, MAX is a nonprofit, performance-based dance company that also offers classes to all ages, from three to adult.
Gorman grew up in Great Barrington and trained in New York City. After serving as director of dance at Pomfret School, and cofounding a performing arts center in central Massachussetts, she decided to return to the Berkshires. Blacklow, too, danced in a professional company, in Albany, and moved to Great Barrington after she had kids. Once the two women met up, they started talking about founding their own local, resident dance company.
MAX’s cofounders say that “the dream is now alive.” In a few months they have started both an adult company and a teen company, which integrates dance and film. Gorman and Blacklow met most of their dancers through their work as teachers, but they are still looking for more adult dancers.
They have also formed connections with other community organizations in Great Barrington, such as the Railroad Street Youth Project; Community Access to the Arts, which encourages the creativity of people with disabilities; and Gymnastics Unlimited, whose parkour enthusiasts were a particularly dramatic feature of the December flash mob. These flash mobs are a fun way for MAX to spread the word and to get people to participate.
Gorman and Blacklow’s passion to “involve the community through movement” resonated strongly with one Norfolk resident, Kristin Mudge, who has recently joined MAX. Mudge, too, is a professionally trained dancer who over the years has broadened her art to include choreography and teaching movement classes.
Mudge’s background and experience are very similar to Gorman’s and Blacklow’s. After becoming pregnant and retiring from a professional dance company, Mudge was a founding member, teacher and choreographer for a group called the Barnspace Dance Project, which lasted 15 years. Since moving to Norfolk, Mudge has been active mostly as a choreographer, for example, for the Isabella Players, and teaches movement classes at the Congregational Church.
Mudge is happy to be back performing with a company, although she admits that she felt a bit mentally and physically rusty at the start. Gorman and Blacklow say that Mudge “is [an] incredible” addition to the company and they are “really excited to be working with her.” They would like her to join them in choreographing new work for the group.
MAX is currently housed on Great Barrington’s Castle Street in LifeWorks Studio, where Blacklow teaches. Ilana Siegal, the owner of LifeWorks Studio, generously offered space to help get the company started, but the company wants to expand its programming and is now fundraising while looking for a larger, permanent home.
Gorman and Blacklow are eager to enlarge their stable of collaborators. “We are happy to collaborate with anyone who wants to work with us,” they say, “musicians, filmmakers, artists, other nonprofits.” They are also open to the idea of performing in other towns in the Berkshire and Litchfield Hills area. Mudge has already discussed with them the possibility of bringing the adult company to Norfolk for a performance.
The pair have accomplished a lot in the last six months, but as Gorman says, “There’s so much more we want to do!”
Photos by Bruce Frisch. Top: dancers rehearse their flash mob routine last December shortly before taking to the streets of Great Barrington.