The art of women

The eighth annual “Women Live” comes to Pathways in Chilmark.

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Pathways vibrated with creativity on Friday evening, with its eighth annual celebration “Women Live,” a multi-arts event celebrating International Women’s Month. We were welcomed into the space at the Chilmark Tavern with multimedia artist Danielle Mulcahy’s latest short film, “More Than a Day,” created in collaboration with dancer Jesse Jason. Text written by local high school students ran in the background both prior to and after the event.

The performance portion of the event opened with “Dare to Hope,” an evocative and poignant dance/spoken word/sound solo by Jesse Jason that was a perfect antidote to the onslaught of the current international crisis. Inspired by the concept of daring to hope, Jason came up with the idea of making a wish, and what that means to the wishmaker. While in constant motion, which was a mixture of dance and pedestrian movement, she took us on a journey touching on wishes on birthdays, wishing as we when throw pennies in a well, wishing upon a star, the importance of sharing — or not — one’s wish, and eventually to the essential ingredient of daring to hope for ourselves.

Abby Bender titled her contribution “Syzygy,” marking when the sun and moon align and cause very unusual high tides. Bender introduced the video in her typical witty manner, describing her new experiment as a non-live, somewhat light-hearted, somewhat heavy-hearted, genre-bending fiction that she began in the summer of 2020. It wasn’t about women, but there was a female character — a bird named Audrey who was the love interest of the blue-footed booby, an oversize-penguin-type bird named Perceval, played by Bender. Perceval narrated the romance. The avian online dating story made for many whip-smart double-entendres that kept the audience on their toes. 

Next up was a recording of Hananah Zaheer reading her rich, poignant short story, “The Willow Tree Fever.” This was an amazing piece interweaving South Asian mythology with the daily life of women in her birth country of Pakistan. The story centered on the mystical power of a willow tree, which was a source of sustenance to the female narrator whose repressive husband designs — along with the other men of the neighborhood — to do away with it since it threatens their dominance. The personification of the tree and its relationship to the wife was a powerful metaphor for a silent fight for independence.

Poet Ben Williams performed “Reflections,” which was about and for women. He told us beforehand, “I’ll be performing a narrative-driven piece centered on prosody,” which stresses pattern, pause, rhythm, variation in pitch, loudness, clarity of speech, the speed of reading, and emphasis on particular words or phrases. Williams added, “It’s a playful take on my relationship with a woman in my life.” In a few short minutes he captured the intensity of their connection. “She tampered with my mirror-ness, with what I would see when I reflected other entities to try to forge me,” followed later by the equally as powerful, “When she slept, I would vanish.”

Singer-songwriter Darby Patterson performed a number of pieces, opening with “Curse Her Name,” which was the first song she ever wrote. It is about “acceptance and letting the memory of someone motivate you to live and be better even if that person is not in your life anymore.” Next, she sang “Zombie” by the Cranberries, wanting to perform something by another female songwriter. Her last song was another of her own, “Staring at the Ceiling.” Patterson said, “I wrote it when I was going through a bout of insomnia and everyone was asking, ‘Hey, how are you?’ and feeling the pressure to say that I’m fine. I felt it was really common during that first winter during COVID, when life was happening — but not — at the same time.” 

Barbara Dacey rounded out the night performing four folk and blues songs. The first was “Your Heart Is as Black as Night” by Melody Gardot. Dacey said she selected the tune because she resonates with the melody and simplicity of the chords, as well as her connection with the feeling behind the song. Dacey said of her own deeply moving tribute, “Oh Will!” — about Island musician Will Lucky — that it is a “very personal meditation on the passing of this wonderful friend and teacher.” Dacey also took the plunge, sharing a new work, “She Flies,” which just came together as she was preparing for the event. 

“That creative process was so great, I decided I’m going to keep it going right into the performance. It just wanted to come forward,” Dacey said. The last and final work of the evening was the wonderful “Bird on the Wire” by Leonard Cohen, a favorite of Dacey’s. She greatly admires “his ability to express in a pithy way these profound truths. It tells such a beautiful story about what it means to be alive and to make mistakes and do the best we can and realize the possibility of doing something else — being kind or more generous to others or yourself.”