Expressive performance, dance, and theater are all powerful tools that groups like the Yard and Lucky Plush Productions use to bring folks together to celebrate the beauty and strength of community.
The two dance and theater troupes were at Nomans in Oak Bluffs Thursday, where Chicago-based ensemble dance-theater company Lucky Plush Productions put on a dazzling show in celebration of Pride Month. The Yard executive director Chloe Jones told The Times she is excited to have Lucky Plush in residence up in Chilmark. “They came to Nomans tonight to help us get the party started, and infuse an extra dose of joy and creativity into the occasion,” Jones said.
Lucky Plush has been working with the Yard, performing one of its original pieces, “Rink Life,” about the roller rink culture of the 1970s. With nods to the visual aesthetics and social dynamics of this unique era, the entire production is also spoken and sung entirely live — the choreography and presentation at its rawest and most powerful.
“It’s really a timeless piece about human connection, and also comes with this magical dose of nostalgia,” Jones said. “They came with us tonight to do a little singing and some really amazing dance moves, and [Yard] staff came to join in that effort and make the night even more special.”
According to Jones, the Yard has been holding the annual Pride dance since 2014, with Nomans being the most recent home for the event. She noted how much she’s enjoyed witnessing Pride Month on Martha’s Vineyard grow over the years, and said she’s grateful to have been a part of the process during her time at the Yard. “We are super-happy to have played some role in creating a gathering space for all of us on the Island to come together and support the LGBTQ community,” she said. She added that the annual Pride dance is strongly in line with the values and mission of the Yard: “We aspire to gather the community around social issues, and be joyful and inviting of community here on the Island and everywhere.”
Whether it’s taking one of the classes or workshops at the Yard, or attending one of their public dance and performance events, Jones said she hopes everyone can become more in tune with their bodies, and in tune with their communities, by having these opportunities. She said that especially in light of the pandemic, people are more distracted and plugged into electronics — she’s worried that the importance of gathering together in a physical space is undervalued.
“I do this work out of a desire for there to be room for everyone on the dance floor, and I think that when the right environment is created, there truly is room for everyone on the dance floor,”
Jones said. “To be out on the dance floor, moving together, that’s incredibly important.”
Yvonne Mendez, program director for the Yard, said the Pride dance was one of the earliest Pride events on the Island, and it’s been held at a number of different venues. But Nomans, according to Mendez, provides a uniquely spacious and family-friendly atmosphere, and having the event early means families and young people just getting out of school get to show up.
“This was really designed to bring everyone together. We had kids on the dance floor early, even young people from the high school were able to come over after school. It’s all about everybody showing their pride for Pride Month,” Mendez said.
For Mendez, the arts in general offer an avenue for people to connect, enjoy each other’s company, and celebrate each other. She also said the arts can change public perception and understanding in a way that promotes a common togetherness among communities of all kinds.
“That’s one element I think people need to be looking at — embrace the ’70s, understand what that movement was, look back at those years in order to make the future more equitable, more loving, and more enjoyable for everyone,” Mendez said.
Norah Kyle Messier, manager of education and public programs for the Martha’s Vineyard Museum, brought along some 1970s Martha’s Vineyard trivia for some added entertainment and historical knowledge. “I like to say, ‘We bring the history,’” Messier laughed. As a community museum and a community organization first and foremost, Messier said one of the best ways they can show their solidarity is by showing up at events like this. She added that the museum is working on establishing an intergenerational community forum at the very end of Pride Month to illustrate the fascinating queer history of the Vineyard. “One of the gaps in our collection really is the queer history of the Island, and before we lose the opportunity to really get everyone together and talk about what it has meant historically to be queer on this Island and build that community, we would like to assist in the transfer of knowledge between the generations,” Messier said. “It’s not just 30 days out of the year in June. This is all the time. We celebrate the month, then carry that work forward to make sure everyone is included.”
The Yard hosts other other opportunities this summer for diverse groups to come together and dance, including ecstatic movement workshops with DJ FlavYa, “Mindful bodies and reflective practice” with the Urban Bush Women dance company, and more. Visit dancetheyard.org for more information.