Since 2011, when David White took over as artistic and executive director of the Yard choreography residency and performance space, a lot of exciting things have happened at the pastoral campus in the hills of Chilmark. Mr. White, former executive director and producer of Dance Theater Workshop (now New York Live Arts) in New York City, has recruited many of his longtime friends, accomplished dancers and choreographers, as well as new and exciting groups who cross boundaries between dance, theater, and other types of live performance.
This year is no exception. The summer lineup includes puppetry, tap dance, vaudeville-influenced dance and comedy, and more traditional contemporary dance.
Coming up in August, an acclaimed group from Cuba who have only recently started touring in the U.S. will be in residency. They will perform two shows here before heading on to the renowned Jacob’s Pillow in the Berkshires.
Each of the groups who perform at the Yard’s intimate theater in a converted barn on the property will have completed a residency at the facility, and will present new material created on the Vineyard. Oftentimes work presented here for the first time will go on to prestigious performance spaces in New York and elsewhere.
The Yard will kick off its official performance season with works by the current group of Schonberg Fellows, who are in residence now. Every year the Yard awards Bessie Schonberg Legacy Choreography Residencies to a handful of innovative artists. This year’s group includes Chelsea & Magda from Philadelphia, who weave humor and social commentary into their work; hip-hop pioneer Raphael Xavier; and Amber Sloan, who has previously performed at the Yard as part of the popular Bang Group. Performances take place on Friday, June 12, and Saturday, June 13.
The following weekend of June 19 and 20, the Yard will present a shared program of new work by both Kimberly Bartosik and her dancers, as well as Trainor Dance. Ms. Bartosik previously danced with the Cunningham Company. Mr. White, who has long been familiar with her work, says, “She has made some extraordinary pieces over the years. She writes the scores. I saw ‘Ecsteriority4’ (her current piece) in Brooklyn. It’s explosive. It feels like you’re in a heavy metal environment. It’s not heavy metal music, but the piece has that impact. It’s a power punch to the gut.” Trainor Dance, Mr. White says, “uses curiosity and humor to present interdisciplinary work.”
Rounding out the June performance schedule will be new work by Bridgman/Packer Dance (June 26 and 27), a group that Mr. White describes as “real pioneers in the idea of video and dance.” He says, “They create these kind of magical environments.” Bridgman/Packer has a history with the Yard going back to the 1970s. This time around they will be presenting a piece called Truck, which features an actual van in the performances. This work will be moving around to various places on the Island, thanks in part to its mobile theme.
Also in June and early July, the Yard will present a family-friendly program by the children’s unit of Sandglass Theater from Vermont. The Sandglass Theater will include “Fritzi’s Flea Circus,” a world of circus feats, presented by a tiny flea with a big personality, in addition to “Kasper and the Cow,” a funny adventure with Kasper, beloved hand puppet hero of Germany.
“July is basically filled up by ‘Women Dance the Comic,’” says Mr. White, referring to the name he has given a program of work by a selection of outstanding female choreographers.
The work of three different groups will be presented over the course of three weekends. Lucky Plush (July 10 and 11) will perform a piece called “The Queue.” “There are aspects of their work that find their influences in early 20th century slapstick,” says Mr. White.
Performances on July 17 and 18 will feature three different women who all do very interesting and entertaining work. The trio includes Deborah Lohse, Cori Marquis, and Donnell Oakley. They have all performed together at various times throughout their careers, and they will appear in each other’s pieces at the Yard.
Winding up the “Women Dance the Comic” series will be new work by Cassie Tunick and Abby Bender, founder of the Vineyard’s Built on Stilts series and Brooklyn’s Triskel-ion. Ms. Bender, who is well known on the Vineyard from the popular and long-running Built on Stilts program, was recently named one of “The 100 Most Influential People in Brooklyn Culture” by Brooklyn Magazine.
Also during July, Paul Taylor 2 Dance Company will return for a benefit performance at the Performing Arts Center at the Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School.
The August schedule will include work by Dorrance Dance and the Bang Group, two units who have been featured in the Yard’s three-year-old “Tap the Yard” series, as well as a new interdisciplinary piece by Janie Geiser and Company. Mr. White refers to award-winning filmmaker and choreographer Janie Geiser as “one of my favorite artists anywhere in the world.” Her piece deals with a tuberculosis plague in Los Angeles in the 1920s, and will include video, animation, dance, and Bunraku-like puppetry.
On August 8, the Yard will collaborate with the Martha’s Vineyard African American Film Festival to present a onetime benefit performance by Ronald K. Brown/Evidence. The five pieces by Ronald K. Brown will explore the intersection of art and spirituality.
The highlight of the Yard season will take place on the weekend of August 14 and 15, with the much-anticipated visit from Cuba’s Malpaso Dance Company. Malpaso will spotlight Cuban contemporary dance, set to music by Grammy Award-winning Cuban-American composer Arturo O’Farrill.
“It’s amazing to get this company here,” says Mr. White. “It was a major proposition getting visas for all these people. They are magnificent dancers. We’ve received an underwriting by an anonymous donor for 13 round-trip airfares from Fort Lauderdale to Boston.”
Malpaso will be part of a very special Yard benefit event, to take place on August 12 at a private estate on top of Sunset Hill. The cocktail party with performances will be attended by the more than 30 artists who will be visiting the Yard during that very busy week.
There’s much more happening at the Yard this summer (and into September), including a return of the popular Pride Not Prejudice Dancehall party on August 8, and Public Dancing Allowed events with live music, as well as family matinees, kid and adult dance classes, workshops, and yoga classes.
The Yard will be extending its season to include mid-fall, for a taste of what’s to come once its plans to provide a year-round winterized facility come to fruition, hopefully by next year.
For more information, visit the Yard’s website at dancetheyard.org. All Friday performances start at 8 pm; Saturdays begin at 6:30 pm. Tickets (except for special events) are $25 general admission, $15 seniors, students, and active military. Family matinee events are pay-what-you-wish.