Kate Abbott: Honoring women who make and lead


She is dancing ankle deep in the Green River. She lifts a lithe foot from the water, flexes an ankle. When she skims her hands over the water, the light follows her.

I am sitting on the bank in the summer dusk, watching Pooja Ru Prema in her solo show, ‘Endure.' With her hands and shifts of expression, she moves silently through the feeling of falling in love.

She moves to a rhythmic chiming of bells, and the bells quicken, a peaceful pluse and then a driving, agitating pace. The dancer has become unsure, enticing, drawn, alight, shaken with emotion, anguished. Now she stands alone.

When I think of this week's magazine, of women and makers, I think of her dancing.

Some of this show has roots in her native Kerala, India. As a child, she saw a master performer, Ammannur Madhava Chakyar, perform as both a man and a woman in a 10,000-year-old Sanskrit form of drama, Kuttiyattam.

"It was timeless," she said after the show. "He was one of the last old masters on earth."

The sequence of a man and woman falling in love has become a part of many plays in the Kuttiyattam style, and she has drawn it into her modern performance. What she loved as a child she wants to share as a woman.

She will perform again over the weekend, and on Tuesday a few miles away Rabbi Deborah Zecher will sing a farewell. Rabbi Zecher has served at Hevreh for 22 years, and she will end her tenure this month.

I will miss her. We have talked here and there, as our professional paths crossed -- in my first winter in this job, she explained to me the Festival of the Trees, the late winter reminder that nuts and apples will grow again. She told me stories evolving among the Sephardic Jews of Spain before they went into exile. On a Febuary afternoon I could almost smell almond blossoms.

A dozen years ago, when I wrote for the old independent Berkshire Advocate, she told me that in America we have few ways of marking the passing of time. Once we leave school, once we graduate, what tells us that we have grown or achieved something? We have few adult rituals. It's as though we see being 20 and being 60 as the same -- though we know they are not. She wanted to find new markers.

Rabbi, as you move from one time to another, may you have the knowledge of all you have made, something to hold as solid as an apple. You have made a difference to me, and I admire your courage and your music.

In the same way, when I left Pooja's show on Sunday, I walked straighter and felt warm macadam firm under my feet.

Near the end of her show, she sets flowers in a paper boat with a short, round candle. She lights the candle and releases the boat to float downstream. It is a Southeast Asian ritual, she said, to send a gift for the departed. The light moves away slowly. It warms the summer night.


If you'd like to leave a comment (or a tip or a question) about this story with the editors, please email us. We also welcome letters to the editor for publication; you can do that by filling out our letters form and submitting it to the newsroom.

Powered by Creative Circle Media Solutions