Mixing things up

A.I.M by Kyle Abraham MotoRover, Donovan Reed, and Jamaal Bowman. —Steven Pisano

The Yard is mixing up its rich tapestry of dance experiences this summer. The extensive renovation project on its campus has set new plans in motion for its season. 

“Our idea this year was to pivot into a more truncated festival at the PAC,” says Yvonne Mendez, the Yard programming director. The Performing Arts Center (PAC) will indeed be home to an exciting array of dance groups. The larger stage, compared to the intimate one up-Island in the Yard’s Chilmark campus, Mendez says, “opens up other avenues for us. And by presenting down-Island, we hope we will reach a wider audience.”

For more than 50 years, the Yard has showcased diverse choreographers and fostered strong community connections, and this year is no different.

Up first are Val Jeanty and Jean Appolon on Friday, June 28, at 7 pm. Jean Appolon Expressions (JAE) is a Boston-based Haitian contemporary dance company directed by dancer, choreographer, and educator Jean Appolon. It combines modern and Haitian folkloric dance to educate audiences about Haitian culture, traditions, history, and current issues. JAE will partner with Haitian electronic music composer, drummer, and turntablist Val Jeanty to present a medley of three stirring pieces: “Black Is Black,” an improvisational performance featuring Haitian folkloric rhythms and dance; “Traka,” meaning “troubles” in Haitian Kreyòl, exploring how dance, culture, and community are pathways to healing for victims of traumatic events; and its work-in-progress called “Pouvwa,” meaning empowered. 

Next, on Friday, July 12, at 7 pm, will be La Mezcla, a polyrhythmic, all-female San Francisco–based tap dance and music ensemble rooted in Chicana, Latina, and indigenous traditions and social justice. The Yard co-commissioned “Ghostly Labor,” a high-energy and multidisciplinary performance that explores the history of labor in the U.S./Mexico borderlands and the power and joy of collective resistance. This work combines tap dance, Mexican Zapateado, Afro-Caribbean movement, live music, and animated archival video. Featuring an all-female dance company, spoken word, traditional live Son Jarocho music from Veracruz, Mexico, and an Afro-Latino percussive score, this full-length dance theater production brings to life historical events, such as the Bath Riots of 1917 and the experiences of farm and domestic workers throughout California. 

La Mezcla will participate in several activities in the agricultural community, including talkbacks, a community dinner, and a Community Popup Performance on Thursday, July 11, at noon at Morning Glory Farm.

Ragamala Dance Company will perform on July 19 at 7 pm. This Minneapolis-based group is led by the mother and daughters’ choreographic partnership of Ranee, Aparna, and Ashwini Ramaswamy. Rooted in the dance form of Bharatanatyam, Ragamala’s expansive work centers around the kindred relationship between the ancient and contemporary. “Avimukta: Where the Seeker Meets the Sacred” is an intimate ritual for the stage in which the dancers are seekers, engrossed in rituals of sacred contemplation that become an ecstatic prayer celebrating the inevitable dissolution of life. 

The final performance on Friday, July 26, at 7 pm is A.I.M. by Kyle Abraham, which is dedicated to creating dance-based work galvanized by Black culture and history, and featuring the rich tapestry of Black and queer stories. The work, informed by and made in conjunction with artists across various disciplines, entwines a sensual and provocative vocabulary with a strong emphasis on music, text, video, and visual art.

The evening will include “If I Were A Love Song,” a series of poetic vignettes set to some of Nina Simone’s most intimate songs. Composed primarily of solos and duets, the work unfolds like a series of living portraits, deepening our reflections on community, love, and oneself. “MotorRover” is a new abstract and tender duet created by Kyle Abraham in conversation with Merce Cunningham’s 1972 ensemble work, “Landrover.” Performed in silence, one can almost hear the earth rearranging itself as America shifts beneath the dancers’ steady feet. 

Partner Residencies formed coincidentally as well this year. The Yard was approached by Boston Dance Theater, which was already doing a residency for a piece called “Surge” with the Trustees of Reservations Long Point Wildlife Refuge on Friday and Saturday, June 21 and 22. “We entered that partnership as consultants for producing and presenting site-specific work and tech. I’m really happy that it fell in our lap, and was a no-brainer to say yes. It’s right what the Island needs right now,” Mendez explains.

“Surge” explores climate action and sea level changes. The robust project, which began with a residency, includes a paid fellowship for local artist residents to share stories of climate change. Movement, creation, and spoken word workshops conclude with a site-specific performance in, by, and for local communities.

Another is Dance Theater of Harlem, which was already going to be on the Island, and approached the Yard about a possible collaboration. The result will be community classes from August 8 – 10 and a public workshop at Ocean Park on August 9. Company dancers will teach accessible, ballet-inspired warm-ups and fun choreography to participants of all ages. 

As always, there will be plenty of additional opportunities to get your body moving: With each group’s public dance workshop, the Yard’s many community classes, and the ever-popular Kids Do Dance (KDD) program for ages 6 through 12. The young dancers use stories, literature, imagination, lived experiences, the environment, and more as inspiration to choreograph their own dances. Incorporating physical movement, partner work, voice, and other creative expression, young dancers create a 45-minute show to share with parents, families, and friends on the program’s final day. And just like the professionals, KDD caps off the week with a youth artist Q and A, and milk and cookie reception. 

Executive director Stephanie Pacheco sums up the summer: “From the raw emotion of contemporary dance to exhilarating traditional rhythms from around the globe, performances highlight the ensemble, collective journeys, and innovative expression.”

For more information, visit dancetheyard.org. Scholarships are available for performances and events through the Yard Access Program by sending an inquiry in advance to info@dancetheyard.org.