In 1973, dancer and choreographer Patricia Nanon envisioned what she would later call “a playground without walls.” She invited a few choreographers for the summer, auditioned dancers, and looked for a place to rehearse. She describes what happened next in Sea Sand & Stars: Twenty Years Dancing at The Yard.
"It was April before David Flanders, a Chilmark
real estate agent, said, “Well, I’ve got a new barn
over on Tabor House Road…” “David,” I said,
“what are we waiting for?” “You don’t understand,”
said he. “It’s prefab metal, there’s no
electricity, and it’s not even finished. There’s
no water, there’s nothing.” “David, let’s
go,” I said.
"It was a beautiful site. It was hilly.
The views were gorgeous. David would allow us to use his barn,
and we would build a stage with a sprung wooden floor, some wooden
benches for audience seating, and a lighting booth. David
promised to have his big farm machinery and his boats out of the
barn during July and August and would store only a small
amount of baled hay at the back of the barn.
"As it turned out, our carpenter got a more
lucrative job – dredging down in Menemsha – before the
stage was finished. Jeff Madison, from the Wampanoag Tribe
in Gay Head, came to our rescue to finish the job. But it
wasn’t until ten days after the dancers and choreographers
arrived that we finally were able to use the stage. We used
the deck on my house for classes, and all got a few splinters.
"There was no electricity to power lights for
the performances, so we bought a generator. During our first
public performance, we couldn’t find the gas can for refilling
the generator at intermission, and we feared we would have to cancel
the rest of the performance. It was found in time to continue
the second half of the program. We were on. The Yard’s
seagull logo, designed by Robert Fink, swung from a wooden post
at the entrance of our dirt road off Tabor House Road."
Ten years later, Nanon bought the property on Middle Road that is now The Yard’s permanent home. By then, The Yard was known in the dance world. Its mission, and Patricia’s vision, had not changed – it was a retreat dedicated to supporting choreographers by giving them freedom and the opportunity to work uninterrupted. Dancers no longer used an old school bus as a dressing room, and there was no more traipsing from barn to barn for rehearsals. There was now a formal application process and selection committee – and The Yard’s residencies now had a reputation as the plum of the dance world for choreographers.
The early years were a time of relationship-building. Artists became part of the Yard extended family, forming ties that have lasted and deepened ever since. David Dorfman, Linda Tarnay, Gus Solomons jr, Jawole Willa Jo Zollar and many other early “Yardees” remain committed friends, board members and affiliate artists. Bessie Schönberg became Artistic Advisor in 1985 and mentored Yard residents until her death in 1997. Meanwhile, The Yard welcomes its doors yearly to a new crop of young artists and new friends, creating an ever-expanding international family.
Former executive director DiAnn Ray began the process of making The Yard a more visible presence in the island community. The free Artists-in-the-Schools residency was established in 1988, to bring creative and multi-cultural dance programs to the Martha’s Vineyard public schools. The Yard began to offer community classes, and continued its tradition of site-specific events and performances.
Former Artistic Director Wendy Taucher took over in 2006, inaugurating the Yard Arts! Festival of Dance, Theater, Music and Opera and the Yard Affiliate Artists program. Launched by a collaborative concert with Carly Simon choreographed by Taucher and featuring dancer Paola Styron, the festival now brings world class events to The Yard and the MV Performing Arts Center throughout the summer season, with concerts weekly and free family matinees. Artists who have performed at The Yard over the past three years include Nora Chipaumire, David Dorfman, Carolyn Dorfman Dance Company, Margie Gillis, The Limón Dance Company, Susan Marshall, Jody Oberfelder, Gus Solomons jr and Carmen de Lavallade, Paola Styron, Taylor 2, Urban Bush Women, actors Brooke Adams, Paul Benedict, Amy Brenneman, Robert Brustein, André de Shields, Tony Shalhoub, singers Marni Nixon and Carly Simon, and performance artists Reno, Claire Porter, and Staceyann Chin. The Yard is also proud to present local artists, including Nancy Aronie’s Writing Workshop, Abby Bender of Built On Stilts, playwright Jon Lipsky, monologist Nikki Patton, soprano Abigail Southard, and the band Kahoots. 2008 saw the kickoff of Yard Arts! Opera, featuring some of the finest emerging singers on the New York opera stage, conducted by Elizabeth Scott with vocal coaching by Marni Nixon.
In 2007, shortly before her death, Patricia donated the property, black box theater, studio, houses and all, to The Yard, a gesture of faith in the organization’s ability to be both self-sustaining and true to her original vision. We are grateful to Patricia – for her inspiration, her support, and her smart, funny, astute voice, still echoing in the playground she built.