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More About Vertigo Dance Company & the Eco-Art Village

Posted on 24 July 2010 by Deborah Friedes Galili


Vertigo Dance Company in Noa Wertheim’s Mana. Photo by Gadi Dagon.

With a studio in Jerusalem rather than Tel Aviv and another home base in the form of an Eco-Art Village on Kibbutz Netiv HaLamed-Hey, Vertigo Dance Company is certainly far from ordinary.  But what makes Vertigo even more of a standout is the exceptional artistry and socially conscious vision of its artistic directors, Noa Wertheim and Adi Sha’al.

From the very start, the couple’s striking choreography made an impression on the local dance scene. The pair’s first duet, Vertigo, drew not only from Sha’al’s own experience in the air force but also considered the feeling of dizziness within the context of personal relationships; the work garnered them the 1992 On the Way to London award from the British Council. The following year, their multimedia duet Contact Lenses won the first prize in the prestigious Shades of Dance festival for emerging choreographers.

As Wertheim and Sha’al expanded the ensemble of their Vertigo Dance Company, they became known for making daringly athletic work that explored deeply human issues.   The company’s repertory also shattered the conventions of traditional concert dance.  The Power of Balance (2001), a collaboration with British choreographer Adam Benjamin, integrated the group’s regular roster of dancers with disabled dancers.  Placing mankind’s relationship to the environment at its core, Birth of the Phoenix (2004) abandoned the theater for the outdoors, with the dancers performing on a dirt ground under a geodesic dome.

In June, Vertigo performed a trilogy of recent works – the iconic Birth of the Phoenix, the supremely energetic White Noise (2008), and the magnificent Mana (2009) – at the Israel Festival in Jerusalem. Now the company is bringing these three stellar dances to the Suzanne Dellal Center as part of the SummerDance 2010 festival with performances running from August 2 to August 4.   As a bonus, the performance of White Noise on June 3 will be followed by a meeting with the artists.

Want to learn more about this unique group?  Here are several videos with footage of interviews at the Eco-Art Village and the dances from the trilogy as well as Vertigo and Noa Wertheim’s appearance at the TedxTelAviv event.

Below is a video about Vertigo Dance Company’s Eco-Art Village, with brief clips primarily of Noa Wertheim’s Birth of the Phoenix.

In this next video, artistic directors Noa Wertheim and Adi Sha’al as well as some of Vertigo’s dancers talk about working in the Eco-Art Village. Many of the dance excerpts are from Wertheim’s White Noise.

Vertigo and Noa Wertheim were part of TedxTelAviv, which was held on April 26, 2010 at the Jaffa port.  The video below includes an excerpt from White Noise, followed by Wertheim discussing her move to the Eco-Art Village and her philosophy. The video closes with an excerpt of Mana.

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Israel Festival 2010

Posted on 22 May 2010 by Deborah Friedes Galili

ISRAEL FESTIVAL 2010 from ISRAEL FESTIVAL on Vimeo.

Video: Preview of the Israel Festival 2010

As mid-May turns into late May here in Israel, spring is in full bloom.  The sun is now everpresent, no longer occasionally blocked by clouds, and the days grow hotter.  Rain showers are replaced by trickles of tourist groups, portending the forthcoming wave of summer visitors.  And in Jerusalem, the Israel Festival opens, providing the season’s freshest programming in theater, music, and dance.

The Israel Festival traditionally mixes some of the top names from the international arts scene with local favorites, and this year is no exception.  The 2010 dance line-up promises a particularly diverse array of renowned artists hailing from around the world.  Tangokinesis, based in Buenos Aires, brings a tantalizing mix of Argentinean tango and modern dance to Nuevo Tango. Shen Wei Dance Arts will arrive in Jerusalem from its home in New York, but the Chinese-born Wei’s style is infused with elements of Chinese opera, and his work Re is colored by his travels in Tibet, Cambodia, and China. British choreographer Akram Khan is known for blending Indian kathak dance with more modern movement, and his Gnosis is inspired by the Hindu Mahabharata. And the masterful Bill T. Jones will take on American history in Serenade/The Proposition, which incorporates striking video art along with the choreographer’s signature contemporary vocabulary.


Video: Bill T. Jones’s Serenade/The Proposition

Joining these visiting troupes on the festival’s stage is a hometown favorite, Vertigo Dance Company, which maintains a studio in Jerusalem as well as an innovative Eco-Art Village on nearby Kibbutz Netiv HaLamed-Hey. Vertigo will kick off the festival with two free shows of Noa Wertheim’s landmark environmental work, Birth of the Phoenix, before performing Wertheim’s White Noise and her most recent dance, Mana.

Vertigo Dance Company in Noa Wertheim’s Mana. Photo by Gadi Dagon.

The 2010 Israel Festival runs from May 25 until June 11.

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Vertigo Dance Company in Noa Wertheim’s “Mana”

Posted on 29 January 2010 by Deborah Friedes Galili

Video: Vertigo in Noa Wertheim’s Mana

Another guest at International Exposure 2009, Talia Baruch, covers the San Francisco-area dance scene for her blog GoSee– Dance. She wrote some reviews of dances she saw here in Israel in December for her website and is generously sharing them here on Dance In Israel.

Talia’s second guest article is about Noa Wertheim’s Mana, which premiered as part of Curtain Up’s 20th anniversary and was a hit with the audience at International Exposure.  Read on to hear Talia’s take on this captivating work.

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International Exposure 2009—Suzanne Dellal Dance Center | Vertigo Dance Company

By Talia Baruch

MANA
Vessel of Light

Choreography & Artistic Director: Noa Wertheim | Co-Artistic Director: Adi Sha’al | Music: Ran Bagno | Percussion: Dani Makov | Stage & Costume Design: Rakefet Levy | Lighting Design: Dani Fishof | Still photography: Gadi Dagon | Review & Copywriting: Talia Baruch

Mana dances the tension between container and contained, exterior and interior, whole and hollow.

And what is installed first, vessel or light?
Does the Sun rise to fill in the absence of Moonlight, or rather is it the lack of Moonlight that creates the inspiration of its vessel, container of light?
(Based on the Zohar)

Noa Wertheim’s Mana. Photo by Gadi Dagon.

Noa Wertheim’s Mana. Photo by Gadi Dagon.

This timeless tale follows the flow in black and white, with few specks of ruddy-warm.  The bewitching-dark night stands in still, mystical contrast to the milky-white house, symmetrically centered in its simple stable form on stage.

Geometric shapes will now act out the dialogue between feminine and masculine, draw the drama between the forces of life that forever struggle to compliment each other:

Feminine: circular, soft black balloon, hanging like a full moon, up above the house

Masculine: pointy, sharp angular triangular roof, edgy rectangular door, protruding

Feminine: curve and crave in sensual, spiral hip-stirred movements

Masculine: stride, high-strung, across the stage in “connect-the-dot”-like linear routes

Noa Wertheim’s Mana. Photo by Gadi Dagon.

Both forces aspire to escape the hollow and reach the whole in this quest to be holistically contained and content. The visual image interlaced throughout the show is of a black balloon attached to a dancer, pulling her up, tall, stretching out for perfection, her white legs long and strong, trotting like a royal horse in a parade.

Noa Wertheim’s Mana. Photo by Gadi Dagon.

At first glance, the fully dressed, almost orthodox, costumes communicate a puritan, reserved modesty.  But quite quickly, a bare foot peeking under heavy garment, an escaping white shoulder, a curving contour, a tight waistline, a hip, lend to a sensual, lustful, communication.  The free-fall back bends and suicidal leaps shatter the quiet, restrained recital.

Noa Wertheim’s Mana. Photo by Gadi Dagon.

The music drapes the dancers like a fitted gown, in sync, in tune. I play the soundtrack CD over and over and give in to the lyric mood quietly setting in.  Ran Bagno, who has been working hand in hand with Vertigo’s mom and pap (Noa and Adi), wrote the score and played all the instruments, except for percussion, tapped by Dani Makov.  I sit with Bagno over cappuccino on a sunny winter day in down town Tel Aviv and ask him about the creative process of piecing music for this show. “Unlike some other dances, Mana isn’t a collage of fragmented scenes,” he says, “rather, it’s composed as a single, comprehensive piece. When Noa came out with the idea of a ‘vessel holding light’ I struggled to find just the right musical instrument to fit in…until I stumbled over my kid’s old, abandoned guitar. Something about its virgin, broken, acoustic sound was perfect for infusing the muse.”

Noa Wertheim’s Mana. Photo by Gadi Dagon.

Watching the fluid flow of movement on stage, I’m reminded of Alexander Calder’s art — capturing compound sketches in one single line stroke.  The expression captured in Mana carries the visual aesthetics of calligraphy: fine brush, dipped in black ink, forms a black blotch over snow white paper.  Then, in a single skilled hand, it drifts, pulling up tall, lying low, and spiraling all the way through.

Noa Wertheim’s Mana. Photo by Gadi Dagon.

Vertigo Dance Company founded the pea-green Eco Art Village, where they live and create in a little utopian planet of clean air and fresh manure: http://www.eco-artvillage.org/index_eng.asp. This might explain why their work is genuinely untainted, raw and earthly.

Talia Baruch is a writer and translator covering the dance/theater scene in San Francisco, where she has been living for the past 11 years. She is the founder of Copyous, providing creative copywriting and Localization Strategies. The ingredients that shaped her life are the explosive dance scene in urban Tel Aviv, where she grew up, the pea-green English country side, where she inhaled a handsome amount of fresh-manure & horseback-countered through endless woods, and the 24/7 Localization/Internationalization business bustle, that put perspective to it all. www.copyous.com

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International Exposure 2009: A Perspective from Abroad

Posted on 30 December 2009 by Deborah Friedes Galili

Video: Maya Brinner’s Red Ladies was one of several works exploring the individual within the group at International Exposure

A few weeks after International Exposure 2009, not only am I continuing to mull over some intriguing works that I saw, but I am still thinking about the many attendees I met and contemplating the conversations I had with them.

It was truly remarkable to see how many presenters were scoping out Israeli dance with the hopes of bringing Israeli choreographers or companies to their venues.  The audience at International Exposure was well-informed, sophisticated, and worldly; its members were knowledgeable about the contemporary dance scene in their own home countries and had seen some of the latest productions from around the globe.

This diverse array of cultured visitors – and their well-informed observations – reinforced my own perception that there is indeed something especially appealing about Israeli contemporary dance.  It was illuminating to talk to repeat attendees and learn that they found this year’s festival stronger than in previous years; it was also encouraging to speak with first-time visitors and discover that they found several works of interest.

I had several stimulating conversations about the festival with Brian Schaefer, a dance writer and administrator based in San Diego, California.  He has generously written a thorough, thoughtful reflection on the festival for Dance In Israel, offering an invaluable perspective from outside the scene.  Enjoy!

* * *

Seeing Israel through the Lens of Dance

By Brian Schaefer

Oil and water may be the most contentious of the commodities in the Middle East.  But who says art can’t be a country’s natural resource as well?

Such is the purpose of International Exposure – a type of cultural trade fair to encourage the export of one of Israel’s most valuable products: its creativity.  Each year for the past fifteen years, a flock of foreign presenters, managers, choreographers, and journalists has descended upon the Suzanne Dellal Center in Tel Aviv to get a crash course in contemporary dance in Israel in the hopes that we fall in love with an artist or company and take them home with us to introduce them to our families, or rather, audiences.  It’s souvenir shopping on an entirely different scale.

The Israeli Ministry of Culture brings us here to demonstrate the wealth of dance in Israel, show us Tel Aviv as an exciting, cosmopolitan city, and let us discover just how far Israel has come from the pioneering, agricultural days of the kibbutzim and sabras when Israeli dance meant communal folk gatherings, which is still how most Americans consider it.  So the point of International Exposure is to destroy that myth and show us an Israel that is innovative and cutting-edge, both in its technology and in its art.

The process of actually bringing a company to the States is a complicated pas de deux that relies on a lot of other factors that come later on.  But for now, for this week, it’s about seeing work.  A lot of work.  An exhausting amount of work.

Still, the experience is extraordinary.  And the impact is powerful.  Five days later, we leave with a semblance of an idea of what makes contemporary dance in Israel so vibrant.  Without trying to lump everything together – after all, one of the strengths of the program is its diversity – there are a few noticeable characteristics, trends, and themes that emerge.

Niv Sheinfeld and Oren Laor’s Big Mouth.  Photo by Gadi Dagon.

It’s difficult as an outsider not to read too much about the regional conflicts into the work we see.  Few artists, save perhaps for Niv Sheinfeld and Oren Laor who explicitly reference Israel’s military history in the engaging trio Big Mouth, admit to addressing politics in any way.

Yet as foreign critics and presenters who for the most part view Israel from the lens of international media, we inevitably look for ways that artists respond to their social surroundings.  Maybe we look too much.  But perhaps also the fact that such intentional reactions to the political environment are conspicuously lacking in so much of the work we saw is equally telling.

What we actually got in many instances was a complete departure from the realities of this world, and surprisingly often, we were thrust in to the realm of the absurd where the unexpected can occur at any moment, where things are never quite as they seem or can in an instant morph into something unrecognizable.  The absurdity is also in the behavior, where over-the-top characters cavort about with exaggerated gestures, inhabiting fantasy worlds in extravagant costumes and bright make-up.

Inbal Pinto and Avshalom Pollak’s Trout. Photo by Asaf Ashkenazi.

Perhaps no Israeli choreographers better encapsulate this aesthetic and sensibility than Inbal Pinto and Avshalom Pollak.  At International Exposure, the duo showed excerpts from the company’s repertory, the charming Rushes, made a few years ago for the American company Pilobolus, and the new evening-length work Trout, created in 2008 in Norway.  In each, the zany characters and extravagant sets and props transport audiences into an imaginary place that may resemble reality at times but clearly isn’t.

Barak Marshall’s Rooster.  Photo by Kfir Bolotin.

In Barak Marshall’s Rooster, we took a colorful visit to the shtetls of the 19th century to witness a love triangle mixing stories from the Bible and Yemenite folklore with a period aesthetic and surreal scenes of, for example, a man “laying” eggs in his mouth.  It’s a work that, while perhaps a bit unfocused and difficult to follow for non-Hebrew speakers, exudes energy and charm and provides a strong showcase for the performers.

Across the board (for the most part), International Exposure guests walked away with a deep appreciation for Israeli dancers, whose focus and commitment is a noticeable strength of the performances.

Other works that dove into the absurd included Yasmeen Godder’s LOVE FIRE, complete with the gutting of a stuffed creature resembling some combination of goat and lion, an unexpected shower of blue glitter, and a dramatic illuminated heart made of diagonal fluorescent tubes. Yossi Berg and Oded Graf’s study in masculinity, 4 Men, Alice, Bach and the Deer, also made use of a life-sized dead animal, raising peculiar questions about the role of taxidermy in Israeli society.  Okay, not really, but seeing both works in one night gave something to think about.

Michal Herman Dance Group’s Fellowship, based on a short Kafka story, embodied absurdity in the extreme mannerisms of its characters and their exaggerated interactions, as did Irad Mazliah’s Unter den Linden.

While not necessarily “absurd,” Artour Astman & Ilana Bellahsen’s ArtLana presented the two artists as babies in a wide-eyed, charming duet.  The grotesque masks in Noa Dar Dance Group’s Anu suggested something of the absurd but dealt more explicitly with another theme that was largely prevalent throughout the festival – the struggle between the urge for individual expression and the pressure to conform.

The aforementioned Big Mouth tackled the topic effectively as did Maya Brinner’s Red Ladies, which followed a trio of women from synchronized harmony to individual awareness and then group conflict.

But perhaps no dance company in the world embodies this tension between group cohesion and individual identity than the Batsheva Dance Company, whose new work Hora closed the festival.

Batsheva Dance Company in Ohad Naharin’s Hora.  Photo by Gadi Dagon.

Batsheva’s artistic director Ohad Naharin shifts quickly and effortlessly between complicated group sections, done in perfect unison (in a way that no other company can approach), to solos that marry abandon and control in surprising harmony.  It’s a tactic utilized in several of his recent works, and just because it’s a recognizable pattern doesn’t mean its predictable.  Yet here, the tool loses its impact.  While past works like Shalosh (Three) or Mamootot, though still abstract, feel like they follow some sort of arc, Hora in comparison feels circular.  At the end, we’re back at the beginning and as a result, it’s a bit harder to appreciate the journey, but then again, maybe that’s the point.

Naharin has always had eclectic music taste, easily moving from a traditional Passover song to the Beach Boys to soundscapes that he himself creates.  In Hora, the score consists of some of the most recognizable and clichéd pieces of music by Strauss, Wagner, and John Williams borrowed from the archives or classic science-fiction films.  Like the title of the work, Naharin challenges the audience to rearrange its reference points for the associations we have created throughout our lives.

As a result, he creates extremes of possibilities and the space in between where anything can happen and meaning is left ambiguous.  Throwing viewers from one end of the spectrum to the other (from familiar to unfamiliar) with unrelated and nonsensical movements forces us to fill in the gaps of how they relate and what it all amounts to.  And while you may not walk away with an answer, Batsheva ultimately leaves an impression that, indeed, there is something human within this controlled chaos after all.

I always get a sense, watching Batsheva, that there is something dark and explosive just under the surface, and that’s another thread that seemed to weave its way through the festival of Israeli choreographers and companies.  Noa Dar’s Anu plunged suddenly into simulated rape, and Berg and Graf’s 4 Men, Alice, Bach and the Deer similarly incorporated sexual violence into the narrative.

Rami Be’er’s poem Infrared, which is also the name of the work for his Kibbutz Contemporary Dance Company, follows multi-colored soldiers into a garden, which the over-produced performance suggested rather explicitly.  The company appears to have a wealth of resources at its disposal and produced a glossy show that, ultimately, was lacking in the substance and urgency that many of the smaller companies displayed.

Vertigo Dance Company in Noa Wertheim’s Mana.  Photo by Gadi Dagon.

Noa Wertheim’s Vertigo Dance Company similarly approached the theme of complicated group dynamics.  Yet their work Mana offered a depth and sense of intrigue that made it one of the most compelling pieces of the entire week, one that brings together many of the themes discussed here in a tight, luscious, and appealing package that foreign audiences are likely to respond well to.

If another theme might be added, it’s the embrace of classical music mashed with contemporary, fragmented movement.  It’s not a new idea in contemporary dance, but the idea was particularly noticeable at this festival.  In addition to the well-known scores in Batsheva’s work, Godder also used the waltz for inspiration, and Idan Cohen’s take on Swan Lake paired the Tchaikovsky score with sharp, defined, lightning-quick movement that actually made the idea feel current and relevant – no small feat for such an overused score and well-known ballet. But the sense that Israelis are resisting tradition, or at least looking to re-contextualize it to their new realities, came through loud and clear.

Maria Kong in fling.  Photo by Gadi Dagon.

Of course, one can’t possibly force all of the performances into only a few basic themes.  Defying all categorizations was the work by Maria Kong, a new company comprised of former Batsheva dancers.  fling opens with an aching violin solo, performed facing away from the audience, while projections on two columns conjure a world of dark hallways, mysterious rooms, and the constant shift of shadows, which gives the sense that time is passing us by.  Without a dancer on stage for the first nearly twenty minutes, a captivating world is created.  When they do appear, the dancers move with robotic precision.  The slight turn of a head sends waves that reverberate throughout another dancer’s body.  Similarly, fling is a subtle work that makes a big impression.

And while International Exposure aims to present contemporary dance, we were also brought to the Israel Ballet studios to view excerpts from the company’s repertoire. The dancers were proficient, the partnering well-executed.  But the formality of the ballet language doesn’t seem to fit this country.

Interacting with and observing Israelis on a daily basis during the week of the Exposure, the intimacy, suspicion, joy, tension, spirit, and vitality that seems to hover over society here is reflected in the works of contemporary artists that display the same such characteristics.

In comparison, the ballet, with its sterilized look, organized structure, clear gender roles, and polished edges seems to be just what everyone else is fighting against.  And that conflict is what makes the dance in Israel so fascinating.

Brian Schaefer is the dance writer for San Diego News Network and the Program & Audience Development Manager for ArtPower! at UC San Diego, the university’s multi-arts presenting organization.

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International Exposure 2009: Showcasing Israeli Dance

Posted on 05 December 2009 by Deborah Friedes Galili

Rooster

Barak Marshall’s Rooster.  Photo by Avi Avin.

As autumn turns into winter, there’s an interesting progression from one dance festival in Tel Aviv to the next. Tel Aviv Dance introduces Israeli audiences to top-notch dance from around the globe before giving way to Curtain Up, a celebration of new Israeli-made works. And then, in a few concentrated days of concerts, International Exposure attempts to introduce Israeli dance to the world by showcasing the past year’s bounty (including recently premiered Curtain Up works) to foreign arts presenters who just might invite local choreographers to perform in their home countries.

Now in its fifteenth year, International Exposure will present the work of twenty-seven Israeli choreographers to over ninety guests including theater directors, festival directors, and journalists. These visitors will witness a stellar lineup boasting Israel’s most prominent dance companies as well as many independent choreographers at various stages of their careers. Some of the works on the program have been performed many times over the course of the year; others, such as the selections from the still in progress Curtain Up festival, are in their initial performances. Together, these dances offer a valuable retrospective on the past season and paint a representative picture of Israel’s vibrant contemporary dance scene.

International Exposure 2009 runs from Wednesday, December 9 until Sunday, December 13. Many of the concerts will be held at the Suzanne Dellal Centre and are open to the public, so local audiences can catch up on shows they missed during the last year. Other performances will be held at the Israel Classical Ballet Centre, the Nachmani Theater, Clipa Theater, and the Herzliya Theater, giving visitors a peek at the larger scale of dance venues in Israel.

Below is a day-by-day virtual tour of the festival with photographs and videos of many of the dances which will be performed. Want to learn more about the choreographers, companies, works, and festivals I mention? Click on the underlined names to see related articles published on Dance In Israel.

As we say here in Israel, צפייה מהנה – tzfiya mehana, pleasant viewing!

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