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IMPRESSIONS from Boston: Vertigo Dance Company in “MAKOM” Presented by the Celebrity Series of Boston

IMPRESSIONS from Boston: Vertigo Dance Company in “MAKOM” Presented by the Celebrity Series of Boston
Christine Jowers/Follow @cmmjowers on Instagram

By Christine Jowers/Follow @cmmjowers on Instagram
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Published on April 15, 2024
Vertigo Dance Company. Photo: Elad Debi

Choreographer: Noa Wertheim  //  Co-Choreographer: Rina Wertheim-Koren

Music: Ran Bagno  //  Hila Epstein, cello  //  Galia Hai, violin

Dancers/Creators:  Etai Peri  //   Sian Olles  //  Eden Ben Shimol //  Micah Aimos //  Ruth Ben David  //   Ilan Kolubovich  // Alma Karvat Shemesh  //  Noa Israeli  //  Tommaso Zuchegna

Lighting Fesign: Dani Fishof – Magenta  //  Costume Design: Sasson Kedem  //  Stage design: Zohar Shoef  //  Stage Design Execution: Dani Goldenberg  //   Vertigo Eco Art Village

Company Director: Sandra Brown  //  Company Manager on Tour: Justin Dubois

Venue: Bosch Center Shubert Theatre
Dates: April 5 - 6, 2024

We’re audience members at a special lecture demonstration held at Boston’s historic Vilna Shul synagogue. It’s one day before Israel’s Vertigo Dance Company will perform at the Schubert Theatre, and Noa Wertheim, the artistic director, co-founder, and choreographer of the group, is about to delve into her company’s creative process. First she asks that we move together.

“So complex the time we are in,” sighs Wertheim whose tours to China and Brazil had been cancelled because of anti-Israeli sentiment. Born in 1965, she admits that this period of history has been the most polarizing she’s ever experienced. “But we can always connect,” she adds hopefully. Wertheim attempts to find ways in which dance can address polarities, appreciating their complexity, while attempting to find a center.

Noa Wertheim leads workshop at Boston's historic Vilna Shul, company members in the background. Photo: Robert Torres for Celebrity Series

Our choreography goes something like this: standing upright we shift our hips side to side, vigorously, as if rubbing twigs together to start a fire.The “flames” we build force our arms to press outward and up toward heaven. Continuing to rock our hips mightily, our hands, now high above our heads with fingertips touching, push downward tracing the center line of our body. We dive to touch the earth gathering up the force we’ve built, then we return to vertical, and repeat.

In the space of a few minutes, with greater effect than any political speech, lecture, or TikTok reel, we experience a surge of energy within and beyond our bodies. We realize that upon entering this room filled with strangers, we weren’t breathing as deeply as we could have. Now, our inhales and exhales are fuller. We feel more connected to the people around us and to this place.

The Audience's Phrase: moving at the Vilna Shul with Vertigo Dance Company. Photo: Robert Torres for Celebrity Series

MAKOM (2022), the evening length work which Vertigo brings this year to Boston, then Dallas, Pittsburgh, and Cleveland, translates to “place” in Hebrew. More than a specific location, the word “makom” describes any space or experience where one encounters God. The movement phrase we learned from Wertheim is a central motif of MAKOM and a springboard for the breathtaking flight and flow of Vertigo’s nine exquisite dancers.

MAKOM travels from soft dream-like episodes to cyclonic fiery explorations and back again. The dancers, clad in chic, loose earth-toned jumpsuits, create stunning and unexpected shifts of weight and shape with their bodies. In particular their inventive, intimate partnering work marries movements we might never consider as possible. The dancers also engineer mesmerizing simple structures from large branches, sticks, and stones — natural set pieces that never leave the stage but are always adapted to the action at hand. The cast moves in, on, and around these pieces to wondrous effect.

Vertigo Dance Company in MAKOM. Photo: Ziv Barak

One section of duets finds couples leaning into their partner’s foreheads, continually traveling while playing with balance and counter balance. They move somehow always touching, in a state of perpetual caress. Those who aren’t dancing lay sticks around their peers, creating pathways that protect and follow the couples along their journey. A simple act — but it speaks volumes about the sanctity of deeply loving relationships. In them, one can find God.

At another point in the dance, Ruth Ben David quietly climbs aboard wide round sticks which her cast mates hold out in front of her as if they are stairs. Of course, they are not stairs, and the fact that Ben David can balance on them, hovering serenely in mid-air is miraculous. I am reminded of the biblical story of Jacob's Ladder, where in his dream Jacob sees angels ascending and descending a ladder to heaven.

Vertigo Dance Company in MAKOM. Photo :Ziv Barak

Whenever the group moves in unison, one feels as if they are chanting wordlessly. At the beginning of MAKOM, this chant is meditative, an almost ghostly dream march. Slow, elastic, determined, the dancers grab at something then toss it behind them. I imagine they are farmers throwing out seeds, hoping a seedling will take root, hoping to create a place for themselves.

Towards the ending of MAKOM the unison “chant” becomes more speedy, uncontained, and ecstatic. The music takes on a club-like throb. The dancers thrust their chests forward as they  change direction attempting to reach out with their hearts to all corners of the stage and all segments of the audience. They grasp hands folk-dance style, running, jumping, and hopping  (almost flying) through a dome-like hut structure that represents their place of connection for the moment. Their bodies together form an arc not a complete circle: there’s room for us to join.

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