The Yard, a post-season review

In "Mashupbody," clockwise from top left, Joshua Stansbury, Clint Martin, Haylee Nichele, and Lindsay Reuter. — Photo by Ralph Stewart

Despite the publicly reported and continuing financial difficulties that beset The Yard after last year’s season, the four-decades-old dance colony, under a new director, presented a well received 2011 season of works by accomplished and highly creative choreographers and performers.

The new director, David White, describes the season as “compressed” — running from the end of June through Labor Day weekend, rather than June through September as has been customary. Mr. White also says The Yard stayed within its operating budget this year by presenting programs that were affordable in terms of talent and production costs. Still, the season was rich with solid performances and interesting material, thanks in part, to Mr. White’s many connections in the world of dance. The Yard leadership reports that the nonprofit has managed to pay off almost two-thirds of its $248,000 debt, and the balance is in payment plans that will retire the obligations within two years.

Last weekend, The Yard finished the season with its traditional final program, featuring the work that the four Bessie Schö nberg residency choregraphers and 12 dancers have created during their time there. The program spotlit what the organization does best, presenting new choreographers who test the boundaries of modern dance. Four experimental pieces that were created during a four-week residency were presented on Friday and Saturday, Sept. 2 and 3. They provided what, according to artistic director Mr. White, may be a glimpse of the future of modern dance.

The pieces were as varied as they were groundbreaking. The first dance, “Builders” by Charlotte Griffin, featured a series of interlocking disks that were put to multiple uses by the dance’s three performers. The large white disks, which resembled lily pads, were used for a stepping stone sequence, for alternatively building and deconstructing a cage that the dancers engaged with, and ultimately in a shuffleboard-type finale.

A staccato musical composition by Dutch composer Louise Andriessen gave the first piece a bit of an industrial feel, while the second piece, “La noir” by Julie Eichten, had only sound effect loops and a minimalist musical piece with an electric beat and, at times, no music at all, which tended to intensify the stomping movements of the piece. A short monologue by one of the dancers, delivered to Edith Piaf’s signature “Non, je ne regrette rien,” finished the piece.

The next dance was completely silent, which was appropriate since it was, in part, an homage to silent movies. Choreographer Cori Olinghouse performed her own piece dressed in head-to-toe white with whited-out skin and hair. Long pauses were interrupted by movements in which the artist executed short Buster Keaton style moves, while a shadowy, faceless black-clad figure (co-creator Eva Schmitt) — a striking figure straight out of a surrealist painting — made intermittent appearances slinking menacingly around the edges of the center-stage performer.

The final piece, “Mashupbody” by Kate Watson-Wallace, was shocking at times and fun and frivolous at others. Dramatic sections where the five dancers, among other things, feigned seizures, vomiting, and masturbation, alternated with frenzied dancing to pop music and a clothes-flinging, free-for-all finale.

At a Q&A with the choreographers after the Friday evening show, audience members seemed somewhat stunned and silent. A few questions concerned the lack of music in some of the pieces. Elizabeth Keen, who served as choreographer mentor for the residency, countered that reaction by expounding on the musicality of dance itself. She explained that The Yard residents were experimenting with new forms in the pieces that they created while here.

Pre-performance, Mr. White also addressed the issue of the exploratory nature of the residency pieces. He referred to the residency as a laboratory for new works and commented that the choreographers were working at pushing the boundaries.

“New is next,” he said, explaining that what the audience was about to witness may well represent the next stage in the evolution of modern dance. He also discussed how The Yard is committed to supporting new artists as they expand their horizons. “It takes a village to raise a choreographer,” he said.

The future

Mr. White came on board as the artistic director this past winter. He brings to the organization decades at the forefront of modern dance, having been, among other roles, a producer for the Dance Theater Workshop in New York for 28 years. Mr. White tapped his well of established resources — friends, colleagues and associates — to bring some outstanding artists to The Yard this year and showed a flair for presenting interesting and varied work. The 2011 season included a dance troupe from China that combines modern dance with traditional Asian dance and discipline; a highly theatrical comic take on “The Sound of Music,” presented by the renowned Doug Elkins and Friends at the high school’s Performing Arts Center; a performance piece that included original music and puppetry by New York Fringe Festival winners PigPen Theatre Company; and a vaudeville-inspired performance/dance by New York City’s The Bang Group.

The Yard also launched a new series this past summer called Public Dancing Allowed, which gave people a chance to dance to the music of local bands in the nonprofit’s transformed barn/theater.

“It was great. It was multiple generations gathering simply for the love of dance,” Mr. White said of the two dance events that featured the music of Ballywho in July and Johnny Hoy and the Bluefish in August.

At the start of the 2011 season, Mr. White said he wanted to further The Yard’s educational initiatives and expand on a community involvement. He has managed achievements on both fronts. The resident company, H.T. Chen and Dancers, worked extensively in Island schools, and The Yard collaborated with both ArtFarm Enterprises and the Vineyard Arts Project in bringing PigPen to the Island. For next year, Mr. White said he plans cooperative projects with both the Martha’s Vineyard Museum and Built on Stilts, an annual, all-inclusive Vineyard dance presentation program. And, he says he would like to extend The Yard’s season by using other Island spaces — perhaps, for example, bringing The Bang Group back for a holiday show at a venue to be determined.

“This is the way I feel that this should work,” Mr. White says. “I want to bring the Island alive, not just pockets of people, but the whole Island. We’re making a concerted effort to work with other organizations and engage the community as a whole.

“The Yard can’t be perceived as it was for many years, as a colony, a kind of gated community that you can’t get in. We want it to be a center for engagement in the arts.”

As of October 1, Laura Roosevelt will take over as president of The Yard board of directors.

“Having David White on this Island is kind of like having Baryshnikov,” Ms. Roosevelt said. “He’s been knighted in France. He’s a huge figure in the dance world. For us, on this little Island, to have him here is just such a coup. And he’s brought some really inventive, fun things to The Yard already.”