The American Dance Festival‘s 2014 season opened last night at the Durham Performing Arts Center with lots of heartfelt thanks followed by a beautiful performance by Vertigo Dance Company. The Israeli company last appeared at ADF in 2012, with choreographer Noa Wertheim’s Mana. This time the company presents Vertigo 20, Wertheim’s 2012 look back at 20 years of work, from which she plucked sections, recombining them into a new dance. I had low expectations for such a pastiche, but the absurdity of my fears was quickly revealed.
According to The Jerusalem Post, Vertigo “sits comfortably in the solid mainstream of Israel’s dance scene.” It is, perhaps, the Paul Taylor Dance Company of Israel–not outré, not trendy, but highly creative, aesthetically rigorous, skewed toward beauty. Wertheim has cannily reused dance segments that fit well together because of their emotional and choreographic commonalities (amplified by Ran Bagno’s rich musical score), and the result is nearly seamless. Viewers who saw Mana in 2012 will instantly remember the balloon–here the balloons have multiplied, and their appearance and disappearance and reappearance (like a field of flowers) makes them seem like manifestations of the spirit of dance itself.
Wertheim’s choreography, and Vertigo’s dancers, make much of the dialectic of earthbound/airborne. There is a sense of rootedness to land, to place; yet the dancers often appear to levitate, even to fly. They exude physical power and sensuality, and many movements center on the pelvis. (The Great Mother makes a life-giving appearance, the natural result of so much fine ass-rolling.) Several sections include highly aggressive action–in an early one, the dancers appear to be throwing invisible hand grenades–Death is never too far away. Yet others explore a sort of inexorable tenderness, and then there is the ineffable spiritual joy of the fleet open-chested running and the unguarded leaps across space. Cultural rituals are given their due with some particularly smart evocations of traditional line and circle dances–rituals that break free into ecstasy, before returning to nod at their sources. There are some sustained moments of this buoyant circling that look like Matisse’s great painting come to life.
The simple set with its sheer vertical walls punctuated by slim horizontal shelf-seats contains space without limiting it–you feel it stretching away behind in a dusty darkness and above, where the lighting grid looks like a starscape. In the stage pictures, the rigid horizontal/vertical construct is continually over-marked by Wertheim’s extensive use of diagonal lines and positions, and by the genius lighting by Dani Fishof, which sends slanted shadow lines and flying shadow bodies racing across the walls. The lighting is in fact so alive that after just a few moments I began to think of it as another dancer, though in the final scene I recalled the phrase, “lighting is God.”
Vertigo returns to DPAC tonight, June 13, to separate the darkness and the light, while outside the theater, the full “honey moon” will do the same.