24 October 2017 02:03PM
I’m trying to describe what it feels like to sit in the lovely cocoon of Club Helsinki and listen to Natalia Zukerman tell her stories and sing her songs in her brand new show, “The Women Who Rode Away: Songs & Portraits”. I come up with a lame metaphor—a warm bath. So I try mesmerizing, in the literal sense; alert, but still, in surrender to that voice. That voice! Singing or speaking, it’s one of those she-could-read-the-phone-book-to-me voices. Deep and dusky, but without hard edges, from whisper to wail. And when she hits the high notes, she clears the clouds.
From what or where, she doesn’t say, but I presume she means the norm, the commonplace. They’re the women Natalia has loved, from near and afar. The iconoclasts. The famous and the obscure; the living, dead, and not-yet-born. Jane Avril. Georgia O’Keefe, Edna St. Vincent Millay, Audre Lord, Michael Brown’s mother, an end-of-life nurse who dies of breast cancer, her one-breasted, lesbian feminist ninth-grade art teacher, her girlfriend, her grandmother the Holocaust survivor, and her child, not yet born or even conceived. Maybe a daughter. (Her mother, the world-class flutist and local impresario, Eugenia Zukerman, had two.)
She admires, explores, adores them all, and in so doing so she makes you love them too. Most of all she makes you love HER. She’s a fan, student, acolyte, sister, child, mother, lover, and all of her selves are embedded in these odes to others.
I’ve only seen Zukerman live once before, and this time was different in almost every way. Embracing her femininity, without endangering her feminism, she looked and sounded softer. She looked, in fact, like Millay, in black trousers and a creamy blouse with a loose, narrow black tie and shoes like black lace, her short blond hair almost marcelled. A no-frills, beautiful mash-up of the twenties, thirties and forties.
I’ve yet to mention her music, which she plays scarily well on more than one guitar (and other things with strings). She’s the only one onstage, and her voice is always on top where it belongs. (I confess I don’t yet know her music well, and it was hard to do my homework for this one. The songs are almost all new and unrecorded.)
Two little quibbles.
Helsinki really isn’t the place for multimedia. Zuckerman’s drawings of the women, or inspired by them are projected stage left. But the images aren’t big enough, or distinctive enough, at least not in this context. And they tend to be distracting. The spoken words and songs are evocative enough, and who wants to look at anything but this wondrous woman?
Sunday night at the Rogovoy Salon was the very first performance of this show. In fact, it’s billed as a work-in-progress, which, I imagine, is why she recites the word portraits with script in hand. But we’re looking at her and want her looking back at us, so I hope and trust she’ll get off book soon.
Like I said, quibbles. “The Women Who Rode Away” lives up to its press. Seth Rogovoy, who curates the monthly salon (this was the fourth, I believe, in the series) has praised Zukerman to those cloudless skies, with good reason. Two days later, I can call up the sound and sight of her, and the feeling of being suspended in time, in a flash.