A peak into The Yard’s 2010 season

"Dido and Aeneas," a highlight of last year's YardArts! Festival, with Noah Stewart as Aeneas. — File photo by Sally Cohn

For most of its 40-year existence, The Yard in Chilmark has been dedicated to dance with a two-fold agenda: fostering national talent in the world of dance through residencies, and bringing world class original performances to Island audiences.

For dance aficionados, the rustic barn performance space tucked away in the hills of Chilmark has long been one of the treasures of the Island. Now, since the introduction of the YardArts! Festival five years ago, the little dance colony in the woods has become a cultural hotbed, showcasing many of the performing arts (and even some of the visual arts) throughout the summer to appreciative and ever-growing Vineyard audiences.

Without sacrificing any of founder Patricia Nanon’s original mission for the dance colony, The Yard, under the direction of Wendy Taucher, has expanded their programming to include theater, music, opera, poetry, and performance art, with the same rigorous focus on excellence and originality that has always been a trademark of the internationally recognized and celebrated organization.

This summer, along with an impressive lineup of dance performances featuring works created or completed during The Yard’s choreography residencies, Vineyarders will be treated to a humorous one-woman show, a new version of a lesser-performed Mozart comic opera sung in English, a weekend pairing of photography and dance, a theater piece written and performed by TV’s Amy Brenneman (“Judging Amy,” “Private Practice”), multi-media performance/dance parties, and even an opera and dance fashion show. The Yard will also sponsor a dance documentary in collaboration with the Martha’s Vineyard Film Society at the Capawock Theatre in Vineyard Haven.

Advisory board member and longtime supporter Monina von Opel will be co-producing the one-woman show “Asking for It,” by Broadway actress and writer Joanna Rush. Last year, Ms. von Opel brought hip-hop poet Lemon Anderson from New York and he wowed Vineyard audiences. This year, she is excited about introducing another new work.

“People like to hone their work here because they have very sophisticated audiences who understand a work in process,” Ms. von Opel says. Many of the works that premiered at the Yard have gone on to successful runs on New York stages and elsewhere.

The Yard will expand its reach into the international dance scene thanks to a recent affiliation with supporter of the arts Francesca Kelly. Through her worldwide connections and travels, Ms. Kelly will be bringing stars of the international dance scene to The Yard for the first time.

“Wendy has tremendous connections with the arts in New York. She’s very plugged in internally,” Ms. Kelly says. “She has some very strong support. What Wendy has brought to The Yard is a dynamic and very contemporary approach.” Ms. Kelly hopes to bring the same approach with the worldwide dance scene. Starting with this season’s production of the London sensation Balletboyz — an innovative, high energy dance troupe of young men with myriad dance backgrounds — Ms. Kelly has plans to introduce international dance of the highest caliber to Yard audiences.

A fifth anniversary gala on July 2 spotlights the multi-faceted nature of the dance colony. Included in the eclectic show, which honors local patron of the arts Claudia Miller, will be a few of the most well-known opera arias, a monologue by Ms. Brenneman, two Martha Graham solo works, a new piece by the Alvin Ailey artistic director and, as Ms. Taucher promises, a few surprises.

This summer will also see the inauguration of YardArts! Institute — a series of workshops, lectures, and discussions for adults that incorporate a variety of the arts. Along with dance and yoga classes, The Yard will present a comedy writing workshop led by one of the original Saturday Night Live writers, a shakti exploration session for women, and expert lectures on Mozart operas and photography, among other subjects.

The opening night post-performance parties this year will be sponsored by the Cape and Islands NPR station WCAI. Included with Patron Season Passes, the Friday champagne and dessert gatherings with cast and crew have been a popular tradition for some time, giving audiences a chance to mingle with visiting performers. In addition to the Patrons Pass, which includes attendance at all opening night shows and parties, a new more affordable season pass is offered this year. The Saturday/Sunday pass, for $250, includes tickets for every show and a discount for the fashion show at the airport. For the first time, The Yard also offers season pass holders the opportunity to throw pre-theater picnics under the festival tent.

Ms. Taucher’s experimentation with different art forms has paid off, with the colony now in operation every weekend throughout the summer and encompassing a broader audience with varied tastes.

“Wendy’s idea of incorporating all the different art forms has allowed her to grow her audience,” says Ms. von Opel. “Having a dark theater is like opening a faucet and letting the water run out.”

And it’s clear that Ms. Taucher, who has an extensive background in opera, theater, and many other art forms as well as dance, is enjoying The Yard’s new versatility.

“Because I’m an artist myself, I like to share my favorite thing or things that are worthwhile,” Ms. Taucher says. “That’s what makes the job of curating a season fun. It’s like sharing your favorite stories with everybody.”

Dendy Dancetheater and Hard Working Bodies, Friday, June 25, 8 pm. With Mark Dendy, Patricia Hoffbauer. Continues Sat. (4 and 8 pm), Sun. (6 pm). For more information: dancetheyard.org; 508-645-9662.

YardArts! 5th Anniversary Gala, Friday, July 2, 6 pm. Evening with The Yard’s finest, honoring Claudia Miller. Dinner, show, dessert. 508-645-9662; dancetheyard.org.