Colorful costumes, different types of music and the Union Chapel pews moved to the perimeter of the room all point to one thing: Built on Stilts dance festival is back.

Spanning two weekends, the festival gives dancers of all ages and styles a venue to perform choreographic works at no cost to attendees. Nearly 40 different pieces will be performed over six nights as the festival opened its 27th year with shows at Union Chapel in Oak Bluffs last weekend. Remaining dates are August 19, 20 and 21.

Each night has a different lineup — Saturday night’s show included 12 pieces.

Jeanna Shepard

“All the work is short, which is sort of this magical formula,” said Abby Bender, the festival’s director. “So if you don’t like what’s happening right now, in seven or ten minutes, there will be something totally different happening.”

Every one of the 12 choreographed works brought a new element to the show, whether through eclectic movements, spoken words or drum beats. Lucy Grinnan’s Chicken Dance combined storytelling with dance and had the whole audience smiling.

Ink by Ms. Bender is a thought-provoking piece on the political nature of art and creation. Because Ms. Bender’s performance addresses sensitive topics, her shows include a content warning.

In the past, the festival hasn’t included work like this, Ms. Bender said.

Jeanna Shepard

“I’ve never done this before, but if you’re a dancer you know that sometimes you just have to make the piece that your heart wants to make,” she said. “This is the piece that I made, and I want to share it with everyone.”

The festival as a whole, and the unique setting of Union Chapel, has a way of highlighting relationships between dancers and audiences. Instead of a traditional stage, dancers occupy the center of the venue with seats surrounding them.

“I really like to create this sort of roller coaster of emotions for the audience to ride on any given night,” Ms. Bender said.

Each year Built on Stilts features returning performers and new ones. Emily Cicio, Isabelle Jardin and Sarah Maurer brought a new work called Kitchen Dances. The three dancers are roommates in New York City and the piece was born out of that experience.

Jeanna Shepard

“It’s kind of about everyone living the same life together, but doing different things throughout your day,” Ms. Cicio said. “Your life looks different, but you’re doing it side by side.”

Movements mimicking their close quarters, the patterns they absorb while moving about the kitchen and dancing around each other in the bathroom mirror, filled the performance with a sense of undeniable connection.

“We love to dance in our kitchen, which is why it’s given that title,” Ms. Jardin said. “It’s something that’s really special for us. And that brings out such joy so we wanted to try to articulate that in a choreographed piece.”

This was the trio’s first year at Built on Stilts.

“It’s such a special venue and the community is so strong, I love it,” Ms. Cicio said. “I would come back.”

Audiences are welcome to come and go throughout the evening without reserving tickets, though many stake out a spot and stay for whole performances.

“You really feel part of it when you’re in the audience,” Ms. Bender said. “It’s very symbiotic the way that the dancers and the audience relate to each other.”

More pictures.

Performances are August 19, 20 and 21, at 8 p.m. at Union Chapel in Oak Bluffs. A drum circle performance begins when doors open at 7:30 p.m. For more information, including a detailed performance schedule, visit