Alive and kicking: Tap festival at The Yard, Martha’s Vineyard

Tap the Yard: A Vineyard Festival of Rhythm and Beats starts Thursday. — Photo by Adam Metzger

This week’s lineup at The Yard in Chilmark marks a couple of firsts for the 40-year-old choreography residency and performance space. The five-day Tap the Yard: A Vineyard Festival of Rhythm and Beats, is not only the first festival hosted by The Yard, but the first presentation of tap by the dance organization.

The festival features some of the country’s top performers in the field of tap dancing.

“It’s a form that’s very much alive,” said Yard artistic director David White. “And it’s continually evolving from the traditional to experimental to combinations of tap and ballet and tap and modern dance.” The group of dancers who have been gathered for the festival represent a little of each.

Each performance, starting with a show tonight and finishing up with two shows on Saturday, will showcase two different artists or groups. “The idea of the festival is to try to create an atmosphere of multiple attendance,” he continued. Patrons can purchase individual tickets or a package that includes admission to all of the shows and a lecture/demonstration led by one of the country’s premiere tap dancer/choreographers, Josh Hilberman. The pass also entitles the holder to one morning tap workshop class. The remaining classes, taught by the visiting artists, run from 9 to 10:30 am Thursday and Friday.

David Parker, founder of New York City’s The Bang Group, helped curate the festival and will be featured in two of the programs. “I’m the bridge between the tap world and the contemporary dance world,” Mr. Parker said. He and his Bang Group dancers will perform two entirely different styles of tap on the two nights. On Thursday he will present some of his older experimental work from the past in a program called “Redefining Tap.” On that night the Bang Group will be joined by Mr. Hilberman and acclaimed jazz and tap pianist Paul Arslanian. Among other tap innovations, Mr. Hilberman will perform barefoot and in high heels.

On Friday night, The Bang Group presents 30 minutes of their newest cabaret show called “Misters and Sisters” with singing as well as dancing. Members of tap dancer Michelle Dorrance’s company, Dorrance Dance, will perform the second half of the program on both Friday and Saturday night with different material on each night. Ms. Dorrance won a 2011 Bessie Award for pushing the boundaries of tap dance in her work.

There will be two shows on Saturday. A family matinée will feature three young choreographer/dancers. Joining the Dorrance Dance members on Saturday night will be the very accomplished young dancer Adam Metzger, one of Mr. Parker’s former students. Of the Saturday lineup of young dancers, Mr. Parker said, “They will provide a window into the future of dance.”

Mr. White plans to add the festival to The Yard’s annual schedule, changing up the dance forms each year. “We’re going to continue with the Martha’s Vineyard Festival of Rhythm and Beats and encompass all kinds of things that are constructed out of rhythm – African, Indian, hip hop,” he said. Next year, The Yard may bring in some Asian dancers for the festival.

Yard associate director Alison Manning will make an exploratory visit to Japan and Taiwan this winter. Mr. White credits Ms. Manning, who includes tap in her dance resumé, with helping to spark his interest in the idea of the festival and co-curating.

Subsequent festivals may also include film and other forms of media. “Within a festival you learn something about the complexity and detail and variety of a form of entertainment,” Mr. White said.

Tap the Yard, Tuesday, July 10–Saturday, July 14, The Yard, Chilmark. Visit or call 508-645-9662 for more information.