International Women’s Day is one of those holidays that slips right past us without anyone much noticing (and it has slipped: It took place last Sunday, overshadowed by Daylight Savings, an event that leaves us dazed and grateful). But it was celebrated to a fare-thee-well at the Chilmark Tavern on Saturday night.
Anyone who lives here year-round, and who pursues the arts — either as artist or audience member or both — is aware that up in the dark and winter-icy reaches of Chilmark, the lights are on at the tavern. Two or three evenings a week, one may shuffle in from the cold, grab a glass of wine or a cup of tea, a plate of cheese and crackers, sit at one of the linen-draped tables, and be thoroughly entertained by a winter program of the arts — mixed and shaken and stirred — called Pathways.
The host and modern-day Gertrude Stein, Marianne Goldberg, chose last Saturday to celebrate International Women’s Day with the call-to-arms of “Making Art/Enacting Change.” Under the stunning high rafters of the tavern, the emcee of the event, Brit-born Natasha Taylor, read an essay that answered once and for all — or so she hoped — the question that constantly confronts her: “How Did You End Up Here?”
Ms. Taylor’s humor is of the ribald, smashing, hilarious variety, and she started off her musings with tales of her early single-mom days in London, wondering when her infants would “bugger off to college” so she could pack a suitcase and take a trip.
Next up appeared Pathways regular, the young, blithe dancer and choreographer Jesse Keller, with a short bristle mop of red hair, red leggings, and tank top, accompanied by singer and composer Phil DaRosa on acoustic guitar. Mr. DaRosa sang of lost love while Ms. Keller spun and leaped in the concise space ringed by tavern tables.
Elegant dancer Christina Montoya, her work compromised by scoliosis, produced a video of her extraordinary back — bare, feminine, muscled, embellished with a hennaed snake — as the dancer moved sinuous and slow, the camera caught between the figure and changing rays of light, with words of the artist invoking what Ms. Montoya describes as “Snake Medicine.”
Ms. Goldberg rose from her seat and invited revelers to look up — way up — to the human-length portraits hung on high and snapped by photographer Paul Lazes of half-a-dozen women artists in our midst, including Nancy Aronie of the Chilmark Writing Workshop, clad in jeans, her fists braced in benevolent attitude on her hips, and director Wendy Taucher, recognizable even covered in a heavy down jacket, cap, and dark shades.
Next up came Caroline Curry, sharing three short poems, the last about “princes” who are anything but. Susan Puicil of Cleveland House Poets shared three of her own aperçus, the most striking about childbirth: “All seams burst and you will never be the same.”
Gwyn McAllister also decanted three poems, brash and hilarious, including one about adopting a cat, as she admits outright, “I hate him,” until at last she confides, “He hates me.” Next came Sian Williams with two poems, one titled “Canned Heat,” the other, “Year-Round Island Girl,” so sharp and searing and forthright that one could hear, as she finished, a collective groan of recognition.
Singers and composers Rose Guerin and Jemima James changed up the energy as they each sang a song, swapping a single guitar. Ms. James provided a verbal prologue to her offering: A few months back she noticed a full moon which she learned had the unusual nomenclature “Beaver Moon.” She then proceeded to compose a song about it. She sings with a wise-woman voice, and her flair for words reminds those who happen to know this about her: she’s a descendant of the James family, as in William and Henry. Together Ms. James and Ms. Guerin, with a high and low vocal range, gave voice to that old mountain folksong and stern warning to young girls, to spurn that married man who offers to carry them “across the blue mountains to the Allegheny.”
Teen poet of great precociousness, Claudia Taylor read new work in which she plays with a construct of reverse words, so that girlhood changes to hood girl, shockwaves to wave shock, fireworks to work fire, and so on. As always, she impresses mightily, and we look forward to the time when we’ll be able to say we were part of the village that raised her (as did her mom, Ms. Taylor, whose other daughter, Paige, is also an emergent poet).
Gabriella Grecco, with a Broadway background and a passion for the music of Judy Garland, introduced her video-in-progress tracking the album, also in progress, of her singing Garland standards. Next on deck was Ellie Bates with another trio of poems, one a new take on Emily Dickinson’s “Hope is the thing with feathers that perches in the soul.” Ms. Bates contradicts the belle of Amherst with “hope is not that thing with feathers,” but we’d like to think both poets make a strong case.
Last up was musician Kim Hilliard, who led with a song that beautifully summed up the evening, “When I Was a Boy” by Dar Williams, a meditation of that time in childhood when we’re not one gender or another but simply pure being, pure awareness, a bicycle-riding, fastball-pitching child of nature.
Perhaps the most special part of the evening — even above and beyond the striking talent on display — was the fact that men made up nearly half the audience of 82 people (headcount provided by the indefatigable production manager Scott Crawford). And these weren’t poor sad sacks dragged to the event by the females on stage, but rather many of the usual suspects who turn up at Pathways on cold winter nights, sometimes themselves reading, performing, and sharing videos.
These days, with law schools and med schools packed with more girls than boys, surely all the arts draw similar demographics. The day will come when there’ll be no more need for an International Women’s Day, because all the other 364 days of the year bring men and women in equal proportions to our attention, as each in turn takes the stage.
Next at Pathways: Thursday, March 12, at 6:30 pm, “Digital Visions/Creating Realities,” and on Tuesday, March 17, at 6:30 pm, “Playwrights Read.” All events free and open to the public.