Side Notes from the Side Yard

Questions beget questions.

From left, Leah Crosby, Erica Lindegren, Ari Kaufman, and Chloe Jones, performed at Built On Stilts. — 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 her short time here, she’s already fallen in love with the Island. Her other great loves include dancing, writing, traveling, cooking, and hiking. She reports regularly about her experience working at the Yard.

So much has happened at the Yard since my last post (on August 13), including eight unforgettable performances in the span of 12 days.

Ronald K. Brown/Evidence kicked off this marathon of performances on Tuesday, August 11, at Martha’s Vineyard Performing Arts Center, only to take the stage again two days later at the Yard.

That weekend, Cuba’s foremost contemporary dance company, Malpaso Dance Company, performed three sold-out shows.

Last Thursday, Dorrance Dance opened the Yard’s annual tap festival, TapTheYard, which continues this coming weekend with the Bang Group (shout-out to the Yard’s executive director, Alison Manning, who will be tapping with the Bang Group!).

In the midst of all these performances, Yard staff and interns performed at the 19th annual Built on Stilts Dance Festival in Oak Bluffs. The festival is directed by the fabulous Abby Bender, who performed at the Yard last month in our series “Follies: Women Dance the Comic.”

To work at the Yard is to wear many hats. In a single day, we shift from administrator to choreographer, teacher to tech support, performer to audience member. We are a staff comprised of working artists who — despite the insane pace of our summer season — find time to create new work, collaborate with one another, and perform at sites across the island.

Of the places I’ve danced this summer and the Island traditions I’ve participated in, Built on Stilts is a true highlight. To watch dancers of all ages, styles, and experience levels come together under one roof filled me with deep appreciation for the Vineyard dance community.

I performed in two different works at Built on Stilts: one that we Yard interns have been developing over the course of the summer, and one choreographed by my fellow intern Ari. Both are works in progress.

It’s a unique and vulnerable experience to perform a work in progress. Inviting an audience into your creative process means exposing what you don’t yet know and might never figure out — your questions and quandaries, your unpolished side and candid self.

Ari’s piece, called “Falling Spiel,” is an exploration in falling. Three dancers fall repeatedly and in myriad ways, while a fourth switches between speaking into a microphone and furiously wrapping herself in bubble wrap.

What does it mean to fall? To be caught? To catch someone? What does it feel like to overcome fear?

We put our questions on stage.

Both Ronald K. Brown/Evidence and Dorrance Dance performed works in progress at the Yard.

Choreographers Ronald K. Brown and Michelle Dorrance talked throughout their companies’ respective performances, stopping the flow of choreography to address the audience directly. They contextualized the works performed, introduced the dancers, shared personal anecdotes, posed questions, offered insights.

These informal showings — not uncommon at the Yard — provide a window into the choreographer’s process. They expose the questions motivating the work.

In the case of Ronald K. Brown/Evidence, many of the work’s driving questions deal with the relationship between dance and spirituality.

Dorrance Dance is asking questions about the relationship between acoustic and electric sound, about the interface between tap and technology.

They are asking questions that beget questions.

Walking along Lucy Vincent Beach the other day, my fellow intern Kim comments about Martha’s Vineyard: “This place makes me constantly ask questions, but I don’t need answers.”

I stop mid-stride. She hit the nail on the head.