Naomi Steinberg performs her show Goose Feather at the Hutong. Photo taken March 8, 2015. [Photo: CRIENGLISH.com]
By William Wang
A corseted Naomi Steinberg stands before her audience perched curiously on one foot, nose jutting forwards. She honks a couple times to inform people that she is indeed the goose referred to in the name of her show, Goose Feather. A few audience members shift uncomfortably in their seats, trying to avoid her gaze. The Vancouverite honk-laughs at the crowd, coaxing out some chuckles.
A constant stream of performers flows through Beijing, but those billing themselves as storytelllers are few. March 8, Steinberg stopped by The Hutong to describe the tale which is taking her across the globe. The narrative starts in France with her grand-pere, why he loves measurement, and his tersely worded, tightly clenched memories. The story starts with him, but is equally about Steinberg's own perceptions about him and her own musings about movement and travel.
From the honks, Steinberg quickly plunges into a discussion of maps, measurement and uncertainty. ˇ°There's always the thing doing the measuring and the thing being measured,ˇ± she deliberates. ˇ°And in-between: the space where they meet. And even if its the teensiest of quantum fractions, that little space just might be enough space for mystery and the unknown to grace us with their presence.ˇ±
In the search for the deeper narrative, Steinberg encountered twists, turns, successes and failures. At times she uncovered the miraculous: her grand-pere hesitantly accepted a box of used postcards, from his boss, later to discover that within it were 13 postcards from his father to his mother dated before his birth. ˇ°How my boss got this, I don't know. Why my boss should have given me this album, I don't know. But there you go. I have told you everything there is to say,ˇ± impersonates Steinberg.
There are wonderful moments when her charisma shines through and she's with her audience, with herself, with the unexpected gurgles that rumble out of her belly. But at other times, the narrative is less sure of where it's going.
Perhaps that's to be expected, as the show is also about itself, the unfinished passage that this storyteller is presently on. Steinberg is crossing continents by boat and train, (ungoose-like) refusing to take to the air. It's hardly a straight line from A to B. But viewers could benefit from a sense of where the story is taking them.
The goose character is intended to cohere the piece, popping up here and there in a pose or a honk. However the jarring contradiction between the show's loftier philosophies and the slapstick goose uncomfortably pull the story in different directions.
The narrative somewhat abruptly comes to an end when Steinberg announces that it is now time for Q&A. Steinberg herself knows that this is often the richest part of the evening, unscripted and honest, yet still dramatic and physical. You could see her and the audience relax into this part of the evening, and audience members were more than curious to hear more about her adventures. One particularly poignant detail had space to surface here, such as what her (now deceased) grand-pere thought about his story being told across the globe. Steinberg dipped into his now nervous character. ˇ°'You're stirring up things that are almost unstirrable. But everything that you're saying seems right and true. So okay.'ˇ± She paused. ˇ°And then I wished I had my recorder on.ˇ±
Steinberg's year-long trip is still in its early stages, so with time the performance will surely transform and grow, molting some feathers and taking on new ones as she migrates through various Eurasian and North American countries on her circuitous journey home.