Leaps and bounds
She is the classically trained French horn-playing daughter of a truck driver father and office worker (sometimes dancer) mother, who grew up in Chicago, attended Northwestern University and then - "Half way through music school I realized I was spending more time choreographing than anything else," she says. "I literally woke up at 19 and said, 'Oh, I'm a choreographer.' It's one of those lucky things that happen."
Pulling her sweatshirt closer to fend off a chilly September breeze, Wendy Taucher, the artistic director of The Yard, the non-profit dance and performing arts center in Chilmark, settles into the corner of an overstuffed couch in her outdoor "office" - a spacious open tent set amid the small rustic compound of buildings.
"We're on an upward trajectory because we're expanding and none of it is taken for granted," Ms. Taucher says. "If you look at the people who [perform] here, it's virtually the who's who of the dance scene. The criteria is world class." Listening to her assess The Yard's growth and outline her ambitions is like listening to the steady driving rhythm of an oncoming train.
"It's a big voracious beast, The Yard," Ms. Taucher says. "So the biggest challenge is to try to understand which road it should take so it stays true to the mission. But also so that it begins to support itself...There's an opportunity here to work on the craft of choreography with big ripple effects."
For 30 years, Ms. Taucher lived and worked in New York as a freelance choreographer and director. Now working year-round for The Yard ("This job is 24/7, 365 days a year"), the West Tisbury resident continues to divide her time between Martha's Vineyard and New York.
And she is a zealot, an imposing figure on a mission begun by The Yard's late founder, Patricia Nanon. Ms. Taucher's association started when she was an artist in residence in 1997, then a board member, and on to general manager and curator of special projects initiating YardArts! Festival. She became The Yard's artistic director in 2006.
"It is no joke running this place," Ms. Taucher says. "It's like doing a destination family reunion every weekend. Monday is turnover day and we're back at it with a new company that has to be housed, taken care of, and respected.
"I don't know what I expected. On some levels, there was so much to do so fast that I didn't worry too much about expectations." She pauses, then suddenly - "You know what it was? I looked around and I felt like Judy Garland and Mickey Rooney. There was a theater and it was empty and I started making phone calls and said, 'Come,' and the best people in the world said, 'When?' The truth is, I start at the top every year, and most of the top say, 'Yes.'"
Ms. Taucher expanded the summer season to extend from late May to the end of September. The Kids' Creative Theater with Music and Movement was added for grades kindergarten through eight.
"I think that while it isn't necessarily a dance crowd here, they're very sophisticated," Ms. Taucher says of the Vineyard's summer audiences. "And they expect the best, which is one of the reasons why I thought it would be good to start programming dance that would put things in context."
There are poetry workshops, classes, music, performing arts presentations, free family matinees, and special events, such as this past season's residency with choreographer Paul Taylor's Taylor 2 dance company, Lucinda Child's "Dance," Purcell's opera, "Dido & Aeneas," and André De Shields's one-man show, "Mine Eyes Have Seen the Glory." During this school year, The Yard will offer school programs that include Brazilian dancers, Broadway fight choreographer David Brimmer, and comic dancer Dudley Brooks.
"The staff protects me from myself," Ms. Taucher says, punctuating with a quick laugh. "This year I'm able to really analyze things in a way that's a little longer term, because I feel like we have so many new systems in place that have worked." This past summer season she defines as being in all ways, "spectacular."
Artistic director is a responsibility that, Ms. Taucher admits, defines her life: "But it's a great definition," she says. "And I work with artists all along that are very aggressive about saying, keep at it. This is a magical place. It's an important place."
Next year's plans include convening a think tank on advocating for the craft, actress Amy Brenneman in her new "Slouching towards Encino," stage appearances by Ballet Boyz from London, and "Impresario," the full translation of Mozart's opera with Cori Ellison from the New York City Opera.
Describing herself as "determined," Ms. Taucher says, "I think it is about passion for what you do. And we love this place, and we love the artists. I sometimes sit in the theater going 'Wow, this is cool'... There are a lot of different things to either enjoy or be intrigued by or to question in a performance. One is the piece itself; one is the quality of the performers; one is the message or lack of message in a piece - you know, if it's an abstract piece. It's fun to analyze what's happening in front of you."
No, Ms. Taucher did not imagine that at 55 years old she'd be doing this: "A freelance career in the arts is filled with twists and turns," she says. "It was this particular place. I'm not interested in being the artistic director anywhere else. At the time that it happened I felt like, 'I get this place. I get it.'"
Choreographer and writer Mark Dendy, new work in progress, Saturday, Sept. 19, 8 pm, The Yard, Chilmark. Call 508-645-9662, or visit dancetheyard.org.