Vertigo is More than a Motion Sensation. Noa Arber
Even after the performance ended and the music and the lights went out, it seemed it was difficult to break away from thoughts of Yama, the dance performance produced by choreographer Noa Wertheim, artistic director of the Vertigo Dance Company. Charged with high level of emotional intelligence and a tendency towards aesthetic somberness, Wertheim sewed together a lyrical dance format capable of moving you to tears, an emotional experience etched deep in the mind. With every expression or movement; note in the composition; stitch and fold of the clothing; lighting, dimming or darkening; as well as each phase of movement and sound; and the whirl and flutter of costumes, all revealing an exciting and passionate artistic experience, bringing forward a performance and especially the content of a courageous work of art. Each aspect of this production is an art in itself, while the fabric of it all incorporating Wertheim’s dance language, the uplifting and virtuoso music of Ran Bagno, sculpture of the beautiful whirling costumes designed by Sasson Kedem, the striking lighting designed by Danny Fishof, and the dark stage paneled in black designed by Nathalie Rodach, creating a wonderful aesthetic harmony and adding to the intensive experience of this dance performance. However the content was left to be deciphered or imagined. “Description of content was left out of the printed program to allow individual interpretation and imagination,” said Adi Sha’al, Wertheim’s life partner, a dancer, CEO, cofounder, and co- artistic director of the Vertigo Dance Company. And all for the better for imagination with no barriers. Vertigo is more than a motion sensation, Vertigo dance company and performance reflect the vision of two young dancers whose paths have crossed on the dance stage. A meeting between Noa Wertheim and Adi Sha’al that weaved a love story, a creative duet, both personal and artistic. About 24 years have passed since they created their first duet naming it Vertigo, and since they founded a dance company under the same title based to this date at the Gerard Bechar Center in Jerusalem. Their life during those years have become an ongoing motion of activity, imagination and artistic creation while the Vertigo Dance Company performs in near and far destinations across the country and abroad becoming a leading modern dance troupe. Vertigo’s impressive repertoire depicts a dance style and language formulated by Wertheim, the artistic director, a collection of original works whose titles correspond with their complex journey through realms of dance and ideology. Each performance representing a chapter in the ideational life path of Noa and Adi and in the existence of the Vertigo Dance Company, incorporating artistic collaborations with dancers, choreographers and troupes from abroad. At one point, Wertheim and Sha’al began to look for a place, close to nature, where they can raise and educate their children in the spirit of a lifestyle they both aspired for. The ideal location was found in Kibbutz Netiv HaLamed Heh that welcomed them and their notion of establishing an integrated Arts center. Their Jerusalem base was never abandoned as they continue their work from both locations, however they chose to build their own home in the green landscape of the Ella valley. Nevertheless they did not move there alone, joined by Noa’s three sisters together with their spouses and children to create a family community lifestyle in this cultural and ecological oasis. Indeed, a unique residential village established to offer workshops and training to promote artistic dance in the light of community and spiritual awareness, and the ecological way of life. Rina, the youngest of Noa’s three sisters, a versatile and experienced dancer, is a principal dancer in the company and right hand to Wertheim in teaching the Vertigo distinct dance language. The other two sisters lead workshops at the center as well: Tally instructs the Power of Balance workshop supporting and guiding disabled participants through dance techniques based on contact improvisation, movement and listening; Merav, the eldest sister, leads a workshop that teaches the art of spiritual healing. Eventually, and for various accumulated reasons and factors, the Vertigo Eco-Art Village has become an established center attracting art and culture fans as well as local and international dancers and choreographers who come to explore the unique and educational experience, to collaborate with the company and participate in performances, workshops and artistic activities. I recently watched two dance pieces of choreographer Noa Wertheim performed by the Vertigo Dance Company, Vertigo 20 and Yama. An exciting experience and a challenging sheer pleasure that I cherish, inspiring though posing more questions than suggesting answers to highlight the dialogue between dance and perspective or movement and the visual and emotional expression. Vertigo20 is an artistic experience that evokes thoughts and reflections on the origin and nature of narratives and all that is told through the language of movement and choreography. I attempted to decipher the contents and although I was perhaps wrong, I enjoyed the freedom given to me to spread the wings of my imagination even if risking an error of interpretation due to my own impression. Indeed, I took the liberty to uninhibitedly imagine things to exist in places that are not necessarily obvious or even present. I imagined the weaving of relationships of love and hate, sensuality and rejection, reconciliation and violence, joy and sadness. Contrasts that I believe to be exposed through Wertheim’s solid dance pieces as she is engaged in surgery choreography, analyzing essences, the veins and arteries of movements and rhythms while sawing together notes and beats into a memorable experiential dance. Realizing that perhaps Wertheim can offer a more accurate insight of her intentions and creative vision I appreciated the opportunity given to me in between rehearsals to talk with her about dance, ecology, earth and nature, spirituality and roots, her life guidelines, arts and conventions. I met a special woman who leads a unique life in an extraordinary place. Our conversation, though offering some answers, has opened a great depth for questions and assumptions regarding her philosophy and the nature of the link between the art of dance and the ecological and spiritual experience characterizing Wertheim’s creative and communal conduct. Theatrical conventions usually imply content and text, a story or plot related to a certain time, period and place. Wertheim’s dance works are silent tales beginning with a single movement. Each movement representing a syllable, a sequence of movements forming silent motion words, phrases and contents. “I start with the material which I regard as the center of the body, bones and joints”, says Wertheim. “A dance begins with a single movement that is joined by another, structuring visual phrases and contents that make up the piece. After preliminary impressions are being formulated”, Wertheim says, “a creative discussion with costume designers, musicians and lighting designers begins”. In Vertigo 20, as well as previous works, Wertheim collaborated with costume and stage designer, Rakefet Levy. “Only after the syllables, words and phrases are selected, costumes are designed and the music is composed”, Wertheim notes. Levy succeeded, in a wonderful way, to weave a perfect fabric of contents, costumes and stage setting, while accentuating specific features such as the elegant appearance of the modern clothes and hints of humor and jest as appeared through costumes and sets to become integral artistic components of the show. “Vertigo 20 is a celebration of themes and principles accompanying us for over 20 years of creative work, a kind of retrospective of views and an observation of the essence of relations as a conscious choice or an act of coming into being”, emphasizes Wertheim. “Yama is a different show, burdensome and dark”, adds Wertheim that selected Sasson Kedem as the artistic costume designer. In fact Wertheim and Kedem are moving along the same line sharing the same spirit of creativity, Wertheim through her avant-garde movement language, and Kedem, one of the most original and revolutionary figure in local fashion scene, through his unique and innovative design language. These two artists cross-reference foreign artistic languages in this refined and precise creative merging and exquisite work of art, featuring a perfect correlation between the yet to be deciphered contents of Yama and the dramatic color of stage and clothes which are all painted black. Kedem links opposite extremes, avant-garde and the restrained, surreal and the practical, square sheets of fabric and rectangular, and triangles and circles, creating a quite incomprehensible artistically engineered tapestry. Generating motion in themselves, most striking garments correspond with body movements amplifying volumes and momentum of both costumes and dance. Can you mention someone from the dance scene that you are influenced by? “I appreciate the Modern Dance revolution led by Pina Bausch however I do not feel that I should aim to be like or identify with any character, artist, or creation. At different periods of time there may be some infiltrations echoing the subconscious imprints of previous experiences”. Wertheim does not apologize rather clarifying how through her creative work she relates to experiences and scenarios in her vicinity, things that happen in nature, in spirituality, ecology and our common responsibility to maintain world peace. How would you distinguish Yama? Yama is quite different in comparison with previous performances and choreographies, there is a different substance which is implied even through the music, costumes and stage setting, more significant and in control”, Wertheim concludes. And again for the better, especially in this case, allowing for individual interpretation of everything that happens and is shown in a courageous and forceful performance such as Yama. Indeed, it is quite understood that each of the artistic forces that make up the show have the right to exist independently while in the act , each complements and even enhances the presence of the other while joining together to form a strong creative non-competitive unit. “Noa is not a political choreographer but rather an experiential choreographer”, adds Eyal Vizner, former dancer of the Vertigo Dance Company and now the company’s director, following my meeting with Wertheim. “Every artist creates a world of its own. Our lives are like a closet with drawers, storing many things, and it does not matter which drawer was opened or what was our thought or intention while creating the dance, but what it stimulates in others”. Vizner is right, indeed Vertigo Dance Company’s performances stimulate and challenge you to dig deeper. After my experiential visit at the Vertigo Eco-Art Village in Kibbutz Netiv HaLamed Heh I also attended the premiere of Yama. I sat spellbind by all that was happening on the stage of the Vertigo dance theater that began with the thunderous opening sounds of war, the march of the drums and shooting that filled the space paneled in black sheets. A powerful opening that heralded, at least in my case and only in a nutshell, the impending excitement and drama, and a conclusion that is doubtfully optimistic. Perhaps in essence Wertheim is not a political choreographer, but the end result shows her being drawn into a reality restored through these dance fantasies. Therefore her tendency to depict the wind, nature and the earth, society and humanity as paving her conduct, requires her to carry the banner of protest to ensure their sustainability. In fact, implementing her total inner discipline and inherent poetic splendor, Wertheim has applied to the Vertigo contents and movement language some truths and beyond, what is visible and what may very well be discovered. Nowadays, when one cannot break away from the wave of political confrontation, what meaning other than political can be attributed to a performance like Yama? In Yama, Wertheim incorporates creative motifs that are intertwined throughout her rich repertoire, a journey that began with the duet performance of Vertigo marking the inauguration of her personal and creative life path with her partner, Adi Sha’al, and as expressed in other exciting duets. Stories that are told through spectacular gestures expressing encounters, conflicts and separations, longing and rejection, and even life and death, as can be implied by the duet depicting a male dancer carrying a helpless female dancer on his shoulders or by the weighty final scene. Another recurring theme in Wertheim’s dance is expressed through the circles – opening and closing life cycles flowing throughout their creative path and as a couple, as well as the traditional Israeli folk dance circles which seem to have a significant role in the blend. The selection of oriental music, the sound of drums echoing war, and the affinity to symbols borrowed from the local existence, sheds light on Wertheim’s sources of inspiration which apparently indicate that rather than confining herself to the artistic bubble she is indeed guided by everything that is going on around her. Another scene which to me seemed as pointing to an existing reality was the “dance of knives” in which dancers are carrying wooden poles as a symbol of the threat of terror (self-interpretation. NA). And alternatively throwing these wooden poles at what seemed like a prison wall or security fence. Other symbols of political confrontation were reflected through dancers raising their hands up and fingers marking the victory sign. The setting of black boxes as well, in my imagination resembles coffins, slowly descending from the ceiling as if threatening the space and therefore the existence of the dancers. To expand and deepen the conveyed message, Wertheim opts for a highly sensitive and painful finale, a Requiem played on the accordion by a dancer sitting on a “wave” of dancers, streaming, washing away and disappearing into the abyss. A pinch of optimism is detected in the “final dance” as the “professional weeper” on the accordion remove her black mourning dress and wears a white gown attached to her body with clay. Does Wertheim really try to conclude with a declaration of peace? Perhaps hope? Or maybe surrender? But that clay crumbles, the dress loosens and slides to the ground, leaving the naked dancer as she is walking into an unknown horizon. Have we really lost all hope? Wertheim leaves this question yet unanswered. The answer, as appeared in light of such an exquisite and pessimistic production, shall probably remain within the private reservoirs of hope.