Headlong Dance Company presents an ‘Island’ of dance on Martha’s Vineyard

Headlong Dance Theater tackles the concept of "Islands" at their upcoming production at the Yard. — David Brick

Drive out to Chilmark down South Road, Middle Road, or Menemsha Crossing — State Road if you’re coming from Aquinnah — and eventually you’ll reach Beetlebung Corner, home of the Martha’s Vineyard’s dance organization the Yard. The Yard presents programs and performances year-round, and includes an education program led by the indefatigable Jesse Keller. But when summer inches up, the Yard launches weekly performances, with national and international dance companies appearing in a lineup curated by artistic director and executive producer David R. White and assisted by executive director and co-producer Alison Manning.

Philadelphia’s Headlong Dance Theater, led by co-directors David Brick and Amy Smith, will present their work “Island” on June 23 and June 25, just a few weeks after the beginning of the Yard’s summer season. Mr. Brick and Ms. Smith spoke with The Times about their work with the Yard, this upcoming piece, and their experimental dance company, which is rooted in their vision of research, cultural inquiry, and community.

“We went to Philadelphia because we were not wealthy artists,” Mr. Brick said of the origins of the company. “We wanted to be a laboratory-based company and not a project-based company. We were Headlong for 20 years from the moment we arrived in Philadelphia, which was a cheap city at the time, and we set up our lives so we could be in the studio every day.” Describing the modus operandi for the company, he continued, “When we work on something, the vocabulary of that piece is unique, it’s not style-based. We develop vocabularies and delivery systems for each individual piece. My definition of choreography is about the body, and questions about the body are at the heart of the work. I also see choreography as situating seemingly dissimilar things in relationship to each other.”

Ms. Smith described how the two joined forces to form Headlong Dance Company: “David and I met in college, at Wesleyan University where we were both dance majors together. We found we had more than an aesthetic overlap, we had a values overlap. We care about process. We care about collaboration. We care about nonhierarchical organizational structure. We like to say we share the credit and the blame for the work. ‘Island’ is a continuation of ideas we’ve been working with in Headlong Dance Company. It’s a piece about time, about space.”

David White, who has invited David Brick to the Yard for four seasons, says he was drawn to Mr. Brick’s artistic process. “He’s sort of unique in the sense of just opening up and being vulnerable to a creative process where anyone can play,” Mr. White said. “He’s like a good ringleader, an orchestrator of people’s talents. In a situation like this, where ‘Island’ can be much more a concept of a confined space that is finite, he animates that space. He’s a fantastic improviser, but he also can be very specific as a choreographer. He maintains this intellectual conversation with his partners.”

Sitting in on a rehearsal of “Island,” it became clear that the work unfolding in front of me delved into studies on character and the nature of dance that Mr. Brick had suggested during our conversation. Dancers were pliant and interacted with each other sensitively and suggestively. In the excerpt I witnessed, dancers Ishmael Houston-Jones and Sandy Broyard (of Chilmark) exchanged verbal observations of their respective islands, Manhattan and Martha’s Vineyard, while poised on small block structures.

“We’re channeling ideas about islands, and to have a connection to this actual island is really important,” Mr. Brick said. “It’s situated here, in some way, for the time we’re here as choreographers working. It’s a chance for us to express the true values of our work.”

Headlong Dance Theater’s “Island”: Thursday, June 23, at 8 pm and Saturday, June 25, at 6:30 pm, the Yard’s Patricia N. Nanon Theater, Chilmark. For tickets and more information, visit dancetheyard.org.