Arts dance review

Vertigo Dance Company bestows Boston with its brilliance for the first time

Noa Wertheim's Israeli modern dance group haunts the soul

7972 photo roberttorres 7588
Vertigo Dance Company in Vertigo 20 presented by the Celebrity Series of Boston at the Shubert Theatre.
Robert Torres

Vertigo 20
Presented by Celebrity Series of Boston
Shubert Theatre
Oct. 29 - Oct. 30

Stifling, intense, morbid, thrilling, and haunting. Those are the sensations you get from this performance from Israel's leading contemporary dance company, Vertigo.

For one hour, without pause, choreographer and co-founder of the company, Noa Wertheim, took us on a tour of her oeuvre in a dance entitled Vertigo 20, commemorating Vertigo's 20th anniversary in 2012.  

The performers were dressed in a motley collection of apparel including skirts, shorts, longsleeves, all achromatically gray, white, or black, some with lacy patterns and others solid. They're supposed to be clowns, as Noa told me before the performance. But why clowns? The clown-like quality is in their playfulness and fun, but that is tempered by a constant reminder of our mortality and the fact that "time is ticking, and always going forward."

A striking set was composed of three grey walls enclosing the stage, as if trapping our clowns in a box of their own self-absorption. Many horizontal planks protruded from the walls at various heights, occasionally serving as seats for the immobile performers. The distance between these seats and the floor, Noa told me, represents the gap between heaven and earth. The performance is not only a celebration of life, but also a reminder of mortality, evident from these disturbing footholds.  

The dancers were often full of life, bounding around the stage, rolling and leaping in synchrony. Other times, some dancers became inanimate. When they did, they became mere puppets — puppets "of the universe, of life and the audience," as Noa said. Sometimes, these puppets would be manipulated by their own companions, taking on the role of puppeteers in this strange carnival.

I want to add, however, that Vertigo stands for more than just fascinating contemporary dance. Wertheim and her three sisters founded the Vertigo Eco-Art village nine years ago, which is a center for art and environmental consciousness in Israel's rural Ellah Valley. Noa and her partner, Vertigo co-founder Adi Sha'al, live there in adobe huts, overseeing dance programs in a spiritual and sustainable setting. Vertigo's branching to other areas, such as environmental sustainability, are, according to Noa, "a matter of personality." She claimed, "I felt I needed not only to talk about creation and what I believe in… I wanted to live the way I talk."  

In the final segment of Vertigo 20, each dancer carried out two huge white balloons, placing them delicately on the stage. Among a ghostly minefield of bobbing balloons, floating between waist and head height, the dancers shifted and shuffled deliberately in perfect harmony. And then, almost abruptly, it was over.