With sweeping cancellations of summer concerts and festivals due to COVID-19, audiences are hungry for the arts. Like many organizations, Washington Depot-based dance company Pilobolus has offered online programs in the last few months, but nothing is the same as an in-person arts experience.

For its third annual Five Senses Festival, slated for July 31-Aug. 2 at Spring Hill Vineyards in New Preston, Pilobolus reimagined its marquee summer event as a series of short performances that the audience can safely experience from foot or by car while practicing social distancing.

Pilobolus has long dealt with constraints in artmaking, even thrived on them. Artistic director Renee Jaworski quoted Leonardo da Vinci, who famously said, “Art lives from constraints and dies from freedom.” When the coronavirus pandemic hit, she and fellow artistic director Matt Kent took on the challenge of how to still hold the festival. “What we are imagining and putting together now is an art safari that you can experience from the safety of your car,” Jaworski says. “At Spring Hill Vineyards, there is a long road that travels through the vineyard. Along this road there are little spaces that you can see from your car, some are close to the road and some are a little off in the distance.”

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Pilobolus’ third annual Five Senses Festival, slated for July 31-Aug. 2 at Spring Hill Vineyards in New Preston, will be a socially distanced art safari.

One might drive around a bend and see a pair of dancers performing in a creek, suspended from a tree in a clearing or dancing atop a hillside. In addition to dancers, also expect to see (and hear) musicians along the safari path. Organizers are also planning for art installations curated by community members and professional artists.

Timed tickets with staggered start times will be sold, and about six to 10 cars will be allowed to proceed to each performance station before the next group enters. “It’s all choreography, so we are going to be choreographing the audience’s movement through the experience at the same time we are curating the experience that they are having,” Jaworski says.

Other experiences include socially distanced picnicking on a large field, morning meditation, yoga and movement, and evening performances similar to a drive-in movie theater, with music playable on FM radio. Pre-packaged food and drinks in cans and bottles will be available for pre-order.

Given the name of the festival, visitors can expect to experience it on a multitude of sensory levels, from sight and sound to even smell. “We are very excited to give our community a place to experience a magical optimism, joy and color and I just think we’re going to need it even more by the time we get to July,” Kent says.

This year’s festival theme, Crossing Borders — both physical and imagined — was conceived well before the pandemic hit and has taken on added meaning now as the organizers take many precautions to make sure people feel comfortable crossing the border between social isolation and being together again (even while apart).

The Pilobolus Ball, the dance company’s major annual fundraiser, which was to kick off the festival July 25, has been canceled. An opening experience will replace it July 31 to serve as the gala event.

Pilobolus dancer Quincy Ellis is looking forward to overcoming the challenges to mounting the festival and putting on a great event. “I am excited to play with the space because the space is so massive and it’s going to be such a huge part of what we do.”


Five Senses Festival

July 31-Aug. 2 (rain date Aug. 7-9)

Spring Hill Vineyards, 292 Bee Brook Road, New Preston

For tickets and registration, go to fivesensesfestival.com or pilobolus.org

This article appeared in the July 2020 issue of Connecticut Magazine. You can subscribe here, or find the current issue on sale hereSign up for our newsletter to get the latest and greatest content from Connecticut Magazine delivered right to your inbox. Got a question or comment? Email editor@connecticutmag.com. And follow us on Facebook and Instagram @connecticutmagazine and Twitter @connecticutmag.