A playground without walls: Contemporary dance at The Yard

Nic Petry and Jeffrey Kazin in "T4Three," a show at The Yard in 2011.
File photo by Ralph Stewart

Nic Petry and Jeffrey Kazin in "T4Three," a show at The Yard in 2011.

This year, The Yard celebrates its 40th anniversary as a contemporary artist residency, dance, and performance center. Patricia Nanon (1923-2008), dancer and choreographer, founded The Yard in 1973, envisioning a space that she would later refer to as a “playground without walls.”

David R. White, current executive and artistic director, said, “The Yard today is still associated with a focus on contemporary dance, not centered on any one company, including art forms beyond dance: theater, music, and contemporary artists working in progressive ways within these art forms.”

The Yard started out in a barn on Tabor House Road in Chilmark. Ten years later, Ms. Nanon bought the property on Middle Road in Chilmark that is now The Yard’s permanent home. The campus consists of three residential facilities for up to 15 artists, a dance studio, and a converted barn theater with seating for more than 100 people. Yard performances largely take place on site, but sometimes occur elsewhere on the Island.

Coming up next, The Yard presents “From the Horse’s Mouth: The (Hidden) History of Dance on the Vineyard.” The show promises to profile the Island and its people through the lens of dance. Dancers of the Yard, along with 25 to 30 residents and visitors, will tell brief anecdotes accompanied by an improvised movement phrase, creating a “moving memory quilt,” Mr. White said. Tina Aroll and Jamie Cunningham — who developed the framework of the performance and have previously worked with similar shows — will lead the dancers, professionals and amateurs alike. Performances are Thursday, August 2, at 8 pm; Friday, August 3, at 8 pm; and Saturday, August 4, at 3 pm.

From July 30 to August 4, the Yard will present “The Dancer Films: Nine Minutes,” an installation exhibit of brief films of Andrea Weber of the Merce Cunningham Dance Company.

Other up-coming preformances include “Doug Elkins Dance Residency (Infomal Showing)” and “YardWorks.” Doug Elkins, choreographer of the popular Fraulein Maria, is in residence at The Yard, working on a new piece that will be performed on its completion at The Yard in 2013. Audiences are welcome to witness the work in progress on August 7 at 8 pm.

“YardWorks” is a performance over Labor Day Weekend showcasing the artistic creations of The Yard’s staff. Performances will be on August 31 at 8 pm and September 1 at 3 pm and 8 pm.

In addition to the performances, The Yard offers morning yoga and community dance classes during the summer season. Yard artists, and occasionally special guests, lead dancers of all capabilities in forms varying from hip-hop to tap.

The community is also encouraged to showcase their moves at The Yard’s series Public Dancing ALLOWED!! The Yard periodically invites bands, many of them local, to play in an informal setting with the idea that the crowd will be out on the dance floor. Public Dancing ALLOWED!!! is part of The Yard’s effort to maintain a year round presence in the community. The next show will be Slavic Soul Party on August 9 at 8 pm at The Yard.

Mr. White hinted at the possibility of a “Floatilla.” The mysterious event will involve fishing boats, the sunset, and dancers of every stripe. He said it will be like “nothing you have ever seen before.” He advises those interested to pay attention to social media. “Keep your ear to the ground,” he said. “Clues will abound.”

Surprises like this do not seem out of the ordinary for the Yard, a place where creativity is celebrated. “When you think of contemporary ideas, while dance is one main form, it morphs into all of these different forms,” Mr. White said, “It is informed by other ways of making art. We are not trying to be purists here.”

For more information, visit dancetheyard.org or call 508-645-9662.