Side Notes from the Side Yard

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The Shell Area at the Yard in Chilmark. — Photo by Chloe Jones

A Salt Lake City native, Chloe Jones graduated from Wesleyan University this past May with a double major in dance and Hispanic literatures and cultures. She currently serves as development intern at the Yard, a position which brought her to Martha’s Vineyard for the first time. In less than one month, she fell in love with the Island. Her other great loves include dancing, writing, traveling, cooking, and hiking. She will be reporting regularly about her experience working at the Yard.

Every day at noon the Chilmark foghorn blares. Most days I’m shocked to learn it’s midday, wondering where the morning went.

My first couple of weeks at the Yard, I would be working at my desk in the shed and practically jump out of my seat when the foghorn sounded — loud and always sudden.

Now I find the foghorn oddly comforting. It creates a moment of togetherness in the day, as everyone within hearing distance pauses to acknowledge that another morning has gone and another afternoon arrived.

At the Yard the foghorn is particularly useful on Fridays, as it signals that our weekly brown-bag lunch seminar (“brown bag” for short) will begin momentarily. When it sounds, my fellow interns and I are crowded in the Side Yard kitchen.

At least one of us will remark: “It’s noon already?!” Ari is mid-smoothie creation, Leah’s beet greens have just come off the stove, Kim needs another cup of coffee, Erica has to set up the camera to film the seminar, and my hard-boiled egg is only half peeled.

But every Friday, upon hearing the horn, we make our way to the Yard’s Shell Area — the clearing where post-performance receptions and events like the brown bag take place — with food in hand.

Each week a new person — a visiting artist, Yard staffer, or someone from the community — leads the brown bag on a dance-related topic of their choosing. It’s not uncommon for two people to lead it together, as was the case last Friday, when Sandy Broyard and Sally Cohn led a discussion on improvisation.

Sandy and Sally are co-directors of What’s Written Within, an all-ages improvisational modern dance company on the Island, and two of the Yard’s closest friends and longtime supporters. Sally is also the Yard’s photographer.

The corps of What’s Written Within includes women and men ranging in age from 17 to 89. The notion that a dancer’s career ends with his or her youth does not apply on Martha’s Vineyard, and I have been deeply inspired by the way the dance community here extends a warm welcome to dancers of all ages.

Sandy and Sally shared their personal experiences with improvisation, and asked each of us about our own. Two other members from What’s Written Within were there, as was the group’s musician, Bruce MacNelly.

Bruce is the architect who designed Sally’s home studio in Edgartown, the place where What’s Written Within meets, and a space she regards as sacred. Dancing there, she says, should feel like moving inside of a cloud — and it does. The room is sunlight and breath.

When Sally hired Bruce to build the studio, she had no idea he would one day return to it with his electric guitar — improvising alongside the dancers, filling the room with music. An architect of sound.

In dance improvisation, we think often about space. We play with proximity, physical contact, and distance. We enter into relationships with one another, and those relationships evolve and dissolve. Often they take us by surprise. As Sandy pointed out in last Friday’s brown bag, the line between improvisation and life is porous.

The Yard’s brown-bag lunch seminar series is free and open to the community, Fridays from noon (when the Chilmark foghorn blares) until 1 pm. For additional information about the Yard’s ongoing events, visit dancetheyard.org.