When you show up at the campus of the Yard on a given evening when a brush of balm still infuses the air — on this occasion last Monday night, with the supermoon on the wane by only a day — the psychic imprint of so many choreographers, dancers, singers and artists who have come before you is palpable. On this recent evening, collaborative arts diva, photographer, and choreographer Marianne Goldberg brought a new layer to the scene.
Only a complete hermit of an artist (and of course there are always a number of those) would be unaware of Ms. Goldberg’s chic clubhouse for the arts, Pathways Projects, deep in the hinterlands of Chilmark, where in the off-season, since 2010, she has kept the lights on in the Chilmark Tavern. “Wintertime on the Vineyard,” she told this paper fives years ago, “is a time you can concentrate on creative projects. I want artists to have a place to meet.”
And meet we do, two or three times a week: The poets among us having at it on given nights, dancers on others, and then there are the prose writers, video producers, musicians, composers; everyone has a chance to share and perform.
And Ms. Goldberg, in addition to being the Gertrude Stein salonista and philanthropist of Island creative folk, is a fully launched artist herself. She received an M.F.A. in choreography from Smith College, after which she relocated to New York to earn a Ph.D. in performance studies at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts.
Her other passion is her desire to protect the ocean, and to move heaven and earth to stop erosion of our coastlines. Monday’s event at the Yard, “OceA Wilderness,” a performance in progress, was dedicated to this theme. The 10 dancers joining Goldberg were chosen from 70 who applied from across the U.S. and Europe. As the program stated, “All have a strong interest in site-specific/environmental work.”
And here’s what we beheld in the eerily darkly lit barn: Roving silk runners in orange, yellow, blue, and pale lilac were flung in the air, creating a curiously cool breeze that could be felt in the audience. Other times the silks lay on the floor as dancers cavorted over and around them. Often the silks were removed, and dancers’ feet swooshed over a paper-shrouded floor.
A certain épater le bourgeois struck the audience, as we admitted later during a Q&A: We were initially brought up short at the absence of music. We craved music. Music and dance go together like waffles and syrup, do they not? But then we allowed ourselves to go with the flow, as it were, to let the rustle of the silk, the squeak on the floor, and the sound of dancers’ arms and legs in extension and curling inward, all of it normally silent as the music gobbles up the action, now allowed to create a music all its own.
Assuredly all of us perceived different meanings from the choreography. Myself, I apprehended at the start, as dancers lay motionless across the floor, then slowly sampled the smallest motions, then morphed toward each other: emergent figures on an ocean floor as they arise from the primordial depths to create new elements, new possibilities, until at last they stand and coalesce into definition, into sentient being.
In the audience, writer Gaston Vadasz told me afterward he’d written a poem that he thought described the theme. I asked him to email it to me, and here’s a descriptive passage from “Sandbar”: “A firm barrier of constant shift /like the perfectly camouflaged snake of the shallow world /it rolls, then upchucks the bottom’s crumbled bounty in rhythmic gyrations.”
The dancers wore vaguely Grecian gowns in a slip-like pattern, in all colors, these lissome shifts enabling a great range of motion, designed by Vital Signs creator Keren Tonnesen. Following the writhing-on-the-floor montage, the figures glided in and out of different tableaux, Three Graces, then Four, then Five, women lifting each other, at other times a solo figure leaping, posing.
A striking piece arose as figures were caught like fish in the rolls of silk. They squirmed and were reeled in, then let go again as the ripples of fabric unfurled from them like wings.
During the Q&A, audience members wondered out loud how the ensemble movements could take place without music to guide them. A few of the dancers said they’d become connected to one another from nine days of living together (in Marianne’s house in Chilmark). “We ate, lived and danced together,” explained one of the performers; “we started flocking like birds.” In the audience, writer and singer Niki Patton suggested they may have moved into a similar mental sphere as meditators who sit together and are thereafter linked, even from a distance. A dancer nodded and said, “When you work together this way, your spirit senses everything around you.”
The day before the Yard showcase, the dancers strutted their stuff on the beach. Ms. Goldberg was asked if she’d planned the occasion around the supermoon and the lunar eclipse, and she replied that it was all just a happy accident.
The dancers include Holly Wilder, Anri Nakano, Emily Craver, Maggie Ammons, Ellen Oliver, Angela Fegers, Leah Fournier, Laura Neese, Evelyn Langley, and Arielle Pina. All hail from distant states around the country, and none had ever been to the Vineyard before. Between rehearsals they had a chance to explore the Island, with a guided tour by Carole Vandal of the Gay Head Lighthouse.
This reporter was left wanting even more: Come back please, and do it all again!