Posted by Annie Robb
Movie by Patrick Sullivan
If you weren’t there to see it, you missed something very special. It was a bit like hearing Bjork for the first time, so markedly different from everything else, so striking and rare. As she opened her mouth and first began to sing, I was stunned by her piercing, ululating voice. She wore a long, dark dress that covered most of her, and the video backdrop of women davening at the wailing wall looped a woman’s covered head nodding, forward and back. I was so struck by her song, tears sprung to my eyes, and I wanted very badly to understand what her words meant. And then I heard the word aliya, over and over. Uh-oh, I thought. She might really convince me. It’s dangerous, sometimes, to know only a tiny sliver of something.
Hearing amazing music in a language I don’t know fills me with mysterious yearnings. We have probably all had at least one friend who had learned to sing an American or British song before or without learning the English language. Oh, the devotion. I thought, I would do that for Victoria Hanna.
Her mouth open so wide, that incredible voice streaming out so clear and strong, she held her body completely still amidst the soup of music that slowly surrounded her. Her face was pale from the projection, her lips bright red, and her eyes and mouth so open that her face became as still and dramatic as a pop-eyed Javanese mask. And then I realized she was singing scripture. I am a person who has seldom in life heard a woman speak Hebrew outside of the occasional Bat Mitzvah, high holiday prayer, or random passer-by. In my life, Hebrew has always been a thing of history and the past. But she could hardly have been more present and vital as she sang words thousands of years old. And just as I began to get lost in my vaguely Jewish thoughts, she stuttered out a consonant that stopped me in my tracks.
Her high, clear notes began to choke, stop on a dime and twist about. She was making noises, incredible unexpected noises. And then she was speaking to us, engaging us with a question, demonstrating something, explicating, and then making a joke? Oh the torture of not speaking her language! How can I laugh at her jokes and asides when the utterances are nonsensical to me (but I do)?
Then, slowly, Hanna, the percussionist, the electric guitar player, the violinist and even the video projectionist all began to swing, and then to rock. When she first hiked up her skirts about to step up onto the high platform and the violinist stepped out, I so hoped for little Klezmer, but it was not to be. They did a number, partly in English, about lovesickness, sleeping and waking. It’s so hard to describe because the words, though stimulating, sort of take a back seat to the incredible charisma and power of her voice. Oh, and there were times she became a bad ass punk rock singer, too. In fact, while she spat words out from her gut, a vaginal delivery close up was projected on screen, and I thought, damn, I’ve never seen a baby’s birth look so punk.
I could go on for days about the performance. I must, however, note the apple piece. Victoria Hanna stood on a dark stage with a bowl full of red apples and began to eat one at the mic, slurping and crunching with relish. Then she picked up another and another, until the lights came up and she was maniacally eating bites from endless apples, juicy spray flying from her mouth, she let chunks fall and spit them out, gave apples to her musicians, flung them out to the audience (though she had a soft throw, one older lady did get konked in the face.) And as she ate, and we laughed with glee, her noises began to reverberate, and the percussionist remixed her mastication, crunches echoed and began to swim in patterns as she wove a tale of love, still with the apples– even stuffing apples down her dress. At this provocative song’s end she took her hair down and began to shed the apple juicy garment, in favor of the smaller reddish dress underneath, and finished with a bold, “Sisters of Jerusalem, [if you should see my beloved] tell him SICK OF LOVE AM I!
The penultimate number was sort of a Hebrew schoolhouse rock. Hey, even I know Aleph, Bet, and Gimmel. But with her final number it dawned on me, what was likely clear to everyone else from the start. She sang the letters, forward and back, to bring the rain. Victoria Hanna is a mystic.