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Letter from New York, 3-1: Going the Distance
Nanon Yields a Yard; Sigman Voyages

By Darrah Carr
Copyright 2007 Darrah Carr

NEW YORK -- Regardless of genre, choreographers work with the elements of space and time. Ironically, affordable rehearsal space and sufficient time are increasingly difficult to find in New York City. Since 1973, the Yard, a dance artists' colony on Martha's Vineyard, Massachusetts founded by Patricia Nanon, has provided a serene space and uninterrupted time for choreographers to experiment and create. (I've been able to take advantage of a few residencies myself and am currently on the organization's artistic advisory board.) During the past 34 years, nearly 200 dance works have been created and premiered at the Yard and more than 500 performing artists have been supported by residencies.

Dancers frolic at the Yard. Uncredited archival photo courtesy the Yard.

Fortunately, these numbers are only going to increase. To ensure that the colony's 2.6-acre wooded property, a complex appraised at $2 million that includes four buildings and a 100-seat theater, would continue to be used for the arts, Nanon recently announced her intention to turn it over the Yard Inc, a non-profit entity.

"Patricia was very clear," said Yard executive director Wendy Taucher. "As a condition of her generous gift the board needed to prove that the Yard would be self-sustaining. We've secured new private funding and significantly increased our performance box office. With the help of the Patricia N. Nanon Foundation, we raised a capital fund; contributors included the Jerome A. and Estelle R. Newman Assistance Fund, Inc. The transfer of the property, and discussions to assure the future of the Yard, were first broached in 2002. (Nanon) was wise and forward looking. If the conditions that insured the Yard's future could not be met, there was the potential to abandon this great experiment."

Nanon, 83, and her family were honored February 1 at a reception in the Tribeca loft of performance artist Reno. Carmen de Lavallade, Linda Tarnay, Elizabeth Zimmer, and Norton Owen were among the nearly 100 guests who gathered to celebrate the generous gift.

"I'm enormously proud of the artists who have been in residence and the work that has been created at the Yard," said Nanon. "Artists like Ann Carlson, David Dorfman, Tony Kushner, Susan Marshall, Shaprio & Smith, Gus Solomons jr, and Doug Varone, to name only a few. The late Bessie Schonberg, our artistic advisor, was an influence on a decade of our resident artists. We believe that the special environment of the Yard, the opportunity for repose and for uninterrupted rehearsal on the island, have been of permanent value to choreographers and dancers. As the Yard enters into its 35th season, my daughters and I wish to see this program continue and thrive. It is part of my legacy, a gift to the dance world and to my beloved Island." Indeed, as it is primarily a choreographers' colony, this cementing of the Yard's future as a unique and devoted creative center is incredibly fortunate for the dance community.

When a Question Becomes a Journey

With the news that the Yard will continue as a singular, permanent place for new choreography still fresh in my mind, I found an interesting juxtaposition in my colleague Jill Sigman's "Rupture," seen February 8 at Danspace Project. As the title indicates, the work, a premiere, deals with impermanence, instability, and brokeness on both a personal and global scale. Spurred by a debilitating calf injury in 2004, Sigman wove her subsequent journeys to many places -- India after the Tsunami, New Orleans and Mississippi shortly before Katrina, Croatia after its recent civil war -- into a commentary on loss and the possibility of healing. Along the way, she succeeded in making the trite adage "make the personal universal" come alive by engaging the audience in clever and thought-provoking ways.

Upon entering the sanctuary at St. Mark's Church, audience members were given a cell phone number to call. A pre-recorded message spoke of Sigman's struggle with injury, posing three questions:

1) What have you broken?
2) What have you lost?
3) How do you want to die?

Sigman had already printed these three questions on 10,000 business cards, which she then placed randomly throughout New York City and elsewhere in her travels abroad. The cards directed the respondent to e-mail the answers to Sigman who, in turn, wrote the collected responses on hundreds upon hundreds of eggshells. Halfway through the evening, as she walked slowly on top of a thick ring of eggshells that encircled the performance space, audience members were invited to come forward, write their own responses to one of the three questions on a fresh eggshell, place it in the circle, and take a few moments to read others' responses.

I assumed that all of the responses would be sad. While many were indeed heartbreaking, others were funny, ironic, poignant, and mundane. People reported losing their "glasses," "water bottle," "virginity," "innocence," "fear of heights," and "my former life when he fucked her."

They've broken "a door kicked in anger," "more than a few hearts," and "promises." Some wrote of dying "peacefully and with courage," "smiling and with forgiveness in my heart," and "next to him, with no regrets."

Reading these fragmented thoughts gave one a sense of intimacy with strangers, of familiarity with the anonymous. In the context of a dance work that illustrated the impersonal edge of military conflict through large video projections, and the physical sensation of pain as Sigman slammed her body repeatedly against the back wall of the sanctuary, these small messages stood out like a tender reminder that we are not alone. While nothing is permanent, nothing is isolated, either.

At the end of the evening, as the dancers embraced each other with their eyes closed, shifting slowly to the sound of lapping water, Sigman instructed us to stand, shift three steps to the right, and observe the scene from a new vantage point. "I want to remind you that the view you had will never exist again, because now you are in a new place," she noted. And with that simple fact, a light turned on.

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