When most people think of the Yard in Chilmark, an arts colony full of modern dancers comes to mind. Perhaps a touch of bohemia, too, with artists living and working on the grounds off Middle Road, running around barefoot with grace and poise. The Yard is all of those things, but at the fifth anniversary gala tonight, artists are out to prove it’s much more.

Opera singers, musicians, actors, performance artists and, yes, dancers will fill the barn theatre to showcase their talents in the fifth celebration of the opening of the Yard Arts Festival.

Wendy Taucher, executive director of the Yard, finds herself in a position like that of Ed Sullivan, without the plate spinners. “You can expect really thrilling performances in a tiny little space,” Ms. Taucher said at the Yard earlier this week. “It’s a group of world-class artists.”

Sabrina Peck
Director Sabrina Peck. — Ray Ewing

Ms. Taucher has been involved with the Yard for 14 years, and she finds ways to change the festival every year. This year’s festival is dedicated to Claudia Miller, who owns the Point Way Inn and founded the organization Artists Pointing the Way.

Ms. Miller in 2005 converted her Edgartown inn to a space for artists visiting the Island to stay for free. “Claudia has been great because she helps a lot of different organizations on the Island and really encourages us to get to know each other, and to work with each other when it’s appropriate,” Ms. Taucher said. “It just felt like it would be fun to honor somebody who has a real open heart.

“The Vineyard arts organizations enrich all of our lives with the talented artists they invite to Martha’s Vineyard,” Ms. Miller says on her Web site. “I would like to offer visiting artists a place to stay in my home during the time they will be sharing their skills and craft with our community.” Ms. Miller was out of the country at press time.

Alison Manning
Alison Manning reads. — Ray Ewing

Highlights of the evening will include a performance of Martha Graham’s Lamentation, a solo that looks deep into how tragedy can take over the body, tormenting and testing boundaries of the soul. The piece was first performed by Ms. Graham in 1930. “It’s arguably the most famous solo ever made,” Ms. Taucher said.

Robert Battle, the new Alvin Ailey artistic director, will have Marlena Wolfe performing Ella, a piece where Ms. Wolfe moves in response to the beat of Ella Fitzgerald’s scat singing.

Nicole Lee Aiossa will be performing a musical theatre piece from The Girl in 14G, made famous by Broadway and television star Kristin Chenoweth. A trained opera singer, Ms. Aiossa has been working with Ms. Taucher for six years, splitting her time between New York and the Vineyard, and is co-producing Friday’s show.

Amy Brenneman
Author Amy Brenneman. — Ray Ewing

“If I couldn’t sing . . . . I don’t know anything else that I like doing better,” Ms. Aiossa said. “It’s always been a release to me, it never feels like work, and I love being in rehearsal.”

Ms. Aiossa has been singing for 15 years and considers performing at the Yard a special experience. “Definitely here it’s the intimacy, you’re so close to the audience, and it’s not in any kind of intimidating way,” she said. “Audiences here, they just love you no matter what you do; everyone’s so nice and they’re so happy that you’re singing for them.”

Amy Brenneman, star of Private Practice and Judging Amy, echoed Ms. Aiossa’s thoughts on the unique space at the Yard. “There’s this great combination of people being relaxed and trying something that they might not try in their normal vocations,” Ms. Brenneman said. “Because it’s the Vineyard, you get this incredible high quality.”

While Ms. Brenneman is preparing this week for the premier of her play Mouth Wide Open next weekend at the Yard, tonight she will be reading an essay she wrote, Blue Hill. She has done readings at the Vineyard Playhouse and at the Yard, and she enjoys the relaxed environment of Vineyard theatres.

“It’s a wonderful combination of really talented people being a little bit more chilled, and when creative people are more chilled, they’re not as self-protective,” she said after a reading of her play.

Other performances will include a group from the New York City Opera singing Largo Al Factotum from Rossini’s Il Barbiere di Siviglia, a piece from Lucia where a girl murders her husband on their wedding night by accident, and some surprises.

“Claudia is quite eclectic and she supports many different types of organizations, so we thought it’d be a proper fit,” Ms. Taucher said. When asked what she was looking forward to for the Yard’s summer season, which includes Joanna Rush, London’s Balletboyz, YardArts! Opera, Suzanne Vega and Urban Bush Women, she couldn’t decide.

“What I look forward to is hearing the reactions of the people who come, hearing what they thought about stuff,” Ms. Taucher said. “We have great performances going on every weekend.”


For more information on the gala and a schedule of events, visit dancetheyard.org or call 508-645-9662.