Yard Arts! this weekend kicks off its third year of presenting dance, theater, music and opera on Martha’s Vineyard, which runs from July 13 to Sept. 21.

This year is a bittersweet one for The Yard, its first summer season without founder Patricia N. Nanon, who passed away in February. Her legacy continues with those at The Yard committed to her vision of nurturing and supporting the art of choreography and the growth of individual artists, thanks to her generous gift last year of the Chilmark land and buildings The Yard calls home.

Wendy Taucher, artistic director of The Yard, sees it as the mission of the Yard Arts! festival to present the best possible work in the performing arts by international and Island artists, and to share with audiences the masterworks of modern dance choreography. As an organization dedicated to nurturing the growth of that art form, she believes The Yard has the opportunity to help audiences to understand the genre. “People will come to see dense, quirky, new work by our resident artists — and actually enjoy it — if they feel comfortable with the art form. The way for folks to begin to feel at home is to see the work of the greats — which were revolutionary, dense and confusing to audiences in their own time. To that end, it’s a real thrill to present Doris Humphrey’s Water Study and the Limón Company in Moor’s Pavane this year.”

This year adds opera to the festival, with a program of comic chamber opera in English and Italian, performed by some of the best young singers in New York. Like The Yard’s dance programming, the evening is designed both for opera-lovers and for newcomers to the genre. Cori Ellison, dramaturg of the New York City Opera, will offer pre-concert talks each night.

Carmen de Lavallade and Gus Solomons Jr perform. — Tom Caravaglia

The genesis of the Yard Arts! Festival was the successful collaboration between Wendy Taucher and Carly Simon on a program of work based on Simon’s music, featuring dancer Paola Styron and involving New York and Vineyard artists and Island children. In the three years since, Ms. Taucher has expanded the festival to showcase a range of artists including the world-famous, the edgy and the local.

This year adds a family concert at the Tabernacle in Oak Bluffs co-presented with the Martha’s Vineyard Camp Meeting Association, and children’s workshops in partnership with the MV Cultural Collaborative: The FARM Institute, Featherstone Center for the Arts, Felix Neck Wildlife Sanctuary, Martha’s Vineyard Museum, and Polly Hill Arboretum.

The 2008 festival kicks off on Sunday with a special opening night performance and benefit party with HBO political satirist Reno.

The season includes three other special benefits: Diversity in Dance ’08 at the Performing Arts Center on July 20, featuring dance legends Gus Solomons Jr., Carmen de Lavallade and Taylor 2 in Paul Taylor’s brilliant Esplanade; the opening night performance of Jealousy, Deceit, Love, Laughter: Opera at The Yard, a program of comic opera in English and Italian, on Friday, August 15; and, on Friday, August 29, the opening night of The Othello Project, a guided tour of José Limón’s masterwork The Moor’s Pavane performed by members of the Limón Dance Company, presented alongside examples of the Othello story as told in opera and theater.

In addition to its long-standing choreographers’ residencies and festival, The Yard brings leading dance educators to children and adults through its artists-in-the-schools programs and community classes. This summer’s program includes a number of offerings for children, including six different week-long sessions in Children’s Creative Theater with Music and Movement, performance opportunities for kids at the Performing Arts Center and the Tabernacle in Oak Bluffs, and a multi-generational performance project with guest choreographer Sarah Wilbur of Wide Sky Dance Project.

Opera is latest addition to third edition of Yard Arts Festival. Courtesy Blaylock Fine Art Photography. — unspecified

For details or to sign up for any of these programs, call 508-645-9662 or e-mail admin@dancetheyard.org.