Noa Wertheim is not trying to paint a pretty picture about her creative process. After seventeen years at the helm of Jerusalem's Vertigo Dance Company, she is the first to admit that there is no method to her madness. And yet, time after time, Wertheim has managed to put out stunning, original works. Her company, which she founded with her life partner and fellow dancer Adi Sha'al, is comfortably perched at the top of the Israeli dance scene. And whether or not all the I's get dotted or the T's crossed, something beautiful always comes out of what Wertheim herself described as "a disaster."
Composing chaos is one of Wertheim's strong points as a choreographer. Her work is energetic, aesthetic and fresh. Each of Vertigo's pieces has its own look and feel. In White Noise, which premiered in 2007, dancers illuminated by a pulsing strobe light literally tossed each other into the air. In Birth Of The Phoenix, the company performs within an enormous metal construct on bare earth. Wertheim's newest work, Mana, which will premier this month, is intimate, soft and intensely powerful.
Mana, which refers to an instrument of light mentioned in the Jewish mystical text The Zohar, is a deeply theatrical piece. The backdrop is a large white house with two huge doors through which dancers enter and exit the stage. At one point a woman floats across the floor suspended by an oversized black balloon. Multi-layered costumes by the talented Rakefet Levi evoke Shaolin monks and give the movement an added sense of weight. Musician Ran Bagno, whom Wertheim has worked with for more than a decade, created an original score for Mana, which blends elements of jazz music with sounds from the Far East.
Wertheim began research for this piece with a simple concept: a line and a circle. "I start from nothing and then something begins to interest me; something connected to the body," she explained at a press conference last month in Tel Aviv. While describing her work, Wertheim stood several times to demonstrate certain movements. "I work from the center and the body reacts. In this process I worked with shapes. What is the essence of these shapes? The circle is female; the line male," she went on. During the many hours spent in the studio, the piece evolved from the circle and the line to other, more personal topics.
VERTIGO DANCE Company took its name from a duet that Wertheim and Sha'al created at the beginning of their long relationship as artistic partners. The piece was about losing control physically and emotionally. For Wertheim Mana was a way to explore her own present state of mind concerning this relationship. Sitting in a studio in The Suzanne Dellal Center with a small group of journalists, Wertheim was candid and honest. "I'm going through something with myself about partnership. After 17 years with the same person how do you define your essence?," she asked.
The movement in Mana goes back and forth between large, sweeping phrases to tight, precise gestures. In order to achieve the kind of togetherness necessary for the quicker ensemble sections, Wertheim broke an old tradition. "We are using counts for Mana. They've never counted in my work before. It's very exciting. That was a defining quality of Vertigo - we never counted. All of a sudden things are a lot cleaner. I found I needed cleanliness this time," she said.
Over many long hours in the studio, Mana began to take shape. "There is a time when it is discovered; when I am no longer in control of the piece," explained Wertheim.
Mana has been in process for over eight months. It will be unveiled first at the United Jewish Federation's General Assembly in Washington DC next week and then in Israel as the opening of the Curtain Up Festival. A list of confirmed attendees for this year's GA includes Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, opposition leader Tzipi Livni and, for the first time, US President Barack Obama. During their stay, the company will teach workshops at Jewish community centers in the surrounding area. "It's a huge honor to be invited to this event," said Sha'al. "We hope it will open more doors to perform in America."
Performances of Mana will be on November 24 and 26 and December 6 and 10 at the Suzanne Dellal Center in Tel Aviv (www.suzannedellal.org.il or (03) 510-5656) and December 11 at the Jerusalem Theater (www.jerusalem-theater.co.il or (02) 560-5755).
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