In her honor

Katie Diamond
Katie Diamond performs "Dances With Isadora" by famed choreographer José Limon. Photos by Ralph Stewart

By Anna Marie D'Addarie - August 16, 2007

"Elaine Miller," said actor Donavon Dittz in his best theatrical voice, opening last Saturday's "She Could Have Danced All Night" program at the Yard in Chilmark. The name of the Yard's president emerita, Elaine Miller, would be repeated many times throughout the evening as the entire night was a special benefit in her honor. But no one said it better than Mr. Dietz, or more often. His entire opening monologue consisted of only Ms. Miller's full name, spoken in every way possible, and the audience loved it. There was no doubt who was being honored and why.

After the hilarious opening, Sesana Allen danced to "I Feel Pretty," a little foreshadowing of guest star Marni Nixon's performance. Ms. Nixon sang the songs for Natalie Wood in "West Side Story." Mr. Dietz was joined by Molly Houghton and Nicole Aiossa for a wonderful and funny number that included singing, dancing, and running from an imaginary shark as the music from "Jaws" played.

In a perfectly timed transition, Mr. Dietz introduced Katie Diamond, who danced a passionate and uplifting tribute to Isadora Duncan with choreography by José Limon and music by Chopin.

Marni Nixon
Marni Nixon sang familiar songs from musicals as well as favorites such as "Summertime" and Jerome Kern's "All the Things You Are."

The show was quite a tribute to Ms. Miller, who took the stage for some brief words. "I know I can do this," said Ms. Miller in her opening remarks, and then she quickly began to cry, saying, "No, I can't. I cry at the drop of a hat." She went on to recount her years as a Yard volunteer, a member of the board of directors, and then president. Her legacy will be how she helped work out a plan with Yard founder Patricia Nanon and the Nanon family to keep the facility open. Earlier this year, the Chilmark property was officially donated to the Yard, insuring its continued use as a performing arts colony.

In her voice

The second part of the evening belongs to Ms. Nixon, who opened by singing "There's A Place For Us" from West Side Story. It was thrilling to hear her perform songs from "The King and I" and "My Fair Lady," two other movie musicals where her voice was dubbed.

Tiffany Spearman, Chelsey Arce, and Ashley Tulluto
(From left) Tiffany Spearman, Chelsey Arce, and Ashley Tulluto dance at the Yard last Saturday. The three are Yard summer interns.

"I allowed those actors to dub in their bodies for my voice," she said, answering the question she is often asked about her part in these movies. At the time, most of the world never knew it was her voice and not those of Ms. Wood, Deborah Kerr, and Audrey Hepburn. Ms. Nixon wrote an autobiography, "I Could Have Sung All Night." Currently Ms. Nixon lives in New York City and continues to work in live theatre on Broadway. The audience could have listened all night.

Accompanying Ms. Nixon on piano for the first time was John Greer. Mr. Greer is currently the director and chair of opera studies at the New England Conservatory. The two shared a funny moment when Ms. Nixon stopped singing "Summertime" and asked Mr. Greer what key he was playing in. They agreed on a key and began again. It was worth the wait.

Elaine Miller
Elaine Miller is a bit uncomfortable in the spotlight at the Yard.

The evening ended with a supper on the lawn under a tent. The mood was joyful after a heady mixture of fantastic dancing, warm and funny tributes, and glorious songs dedicated to Elaine Miller.

It ain't over

This week represents the second week of the Yard Arts Festival. Run, don't walk to see the Urban Bush Women (UBW) perform. Anyone who saw UBW at the Performing Arts Center last year in the sold-out "Diversity in Dance" concert won't need to be encouraged to line up and see them again.

Sassy, strong, and relevant are how this dance troupe is described by the Yard. They were founded in 1984 by Jawole Willa Jo Zollar and are dedicated to exploring the use of cultural expression to bring about social change. UBW weaves contemporary dance, music, and text with the history, culture, and spiritual traditions of African Americans. Ms. Zollar says, "I envisioned a company founded on the energy, vitality and boldness of the African American community that I grew up in. I wanted a company that brought forth the vulnerability, sassiness, and bodaciousness of the women I experienced growing up Kansas City."

K.C. Wilson and Donovan Deitz
K.C. Wilson (left) and Donovan Deitz (right) have a duel of words to see who can give higher praise to former Yard board member Elaine Miller.

The UBW have made a mark on the dance community. If you have not experienced them live, now is your chance. The Island is very fortunate to have the Yard and the chance to see dance and other great performances.

Urban Bush Women, Thursday, August 16, 8 pm, "Walking With Pearl" and "Africa and Southern Diaries." Friday, August 17, 8 pm, "Chicken Soup" with Blondell Cummings. Saturday, August 18, "Walking With Pearl" and "Africa and Southern Diaries." At the Yard, Middle Road, Chilmark. Tickets: August 16 and 17, $75 premium seating; $35 general admission; $25 for seniors and under 30. Tickets: August 18, benefit performance, includes champagne, supper, and dancing, $300 premium seating; $150 general admission. For more information or tickets, call 508-645-9662 or visit