Life, Life, Life: Dancing without dizziness

Vertigo Dance Company is much more than just contemporary dance.

CONTACT IMPROVISATION instructor Mike Fliderbaum practicing the Power of Balance with dance partner Anat. (photo credit: ROUSO MENACHEM)
CONTACT IMPROVISATION instructor Mike Fliderbaum practicing the Power of Balance with dance partner Anat.
(photo credit: ROUSO MENACHEM)
It can hit at the darnedest times: while eating, or opening a window. Once it struck a student of mine as I was giving him feedback on a presentation; he dropped to the floor with a bang and I thought I’d murdered him over his misuse of metaphors. But it was vertigo that felled him, not my feedback – that feeling of the world spinning and the room swaying – and not in any Hello, Dolly! kind of way. Episodes can last from less than a minute to many days; it is always unpleasant.
Unless the dizziness derives from utter disbelief at the record-breakingly unexpected antics of Vertigo Dance Company. First there is the history: Almost 30 years ago Noa Wertheim, a young dancer in the Jerusalem Tamar Dance Company, met Adi Sha’al, whose air force training had forged a strong friendship with the sensation of vertigo. The pair collaborated on a piece that incorporates the concept of spinning out of control – not just in the air, but also in relationships – “the loss of direction – the dizziness – in the human duet.” Their own song seems to have survived the experience; married since 1992, the couple founded the company in the same year.
Vertigo is much more than just contemporary dance; the company is a way of life for the four Wertheim sisters – Noa, Rina, Tali and Merav – who, with their families, live and work on Kibbutz Netiv Halamed-Heh, where the studio is situated. The multiple award-winning performances are sold-out hits in Israel and abroad, dancers leaping over lighted bar stools or getting down and dirty to wriggle in sand and mud. But that is only part of the Wertheim dance.
Then there’s the story of when Hai met Tali.
Hai Cohen, born and raised in Jerusalem, married with a 12-year-old son, dived into too-shallow water in his grandfather’s kibbutz pool at the age of 13 and was paralyzed from the chest down. Despite his injuries he went on to become a music editor and documentary filmmaker. And it was while researching material for a doc that he heard about British Jewish choreographer Adam Benjamin, who was due to give workshops in Israel on Kanduko – a dance performance that integrates disabled and nondisabled dancers. Reluctantly, Cohen was persuaded to participate.
Tali went dancing past and the Power of Balance was born.
The P of D is contact improvisation with dancers of mixed ability moving together to the music. This concept existed before Hai met Tali; according to them their partnership was the first in the world to actually incorporate mixed-ability teaching.
“We are the bridge for miracles to happen,” says Tali, 46 and a mother of four, “as we teach how to contact others through dance, no matter what abilities or disabilities you may have.” Anyone can see how the magic is made.
IN THE blazing heat of Israel’s August, pomegranates and olives, dripping vines and prickly sabras hang heavy in the Vertigo Eco-Art Village in Netiv Halamed-Heh, nestled in the Eila Valley near Beit Shemesh. The kibbutz, of course, is named for the legendary group of 35 young soldiers who trekked overnight to provide reinforcements to the beleaguered defenders of Gush Etzion during the War of Independence. Delayed in their mission, the group was spotted by an elderly Arab shepherd at dawn. The Israeli commander chose not to kill the shepherd, who reported back on their whereabouts. All the boys were killed.
Today the Eco-Art Village area celebrates life. The biblical fruit is watered with recycled showers; only ecological soap gets lathered onto bodies in this tiny part of the world. A solar roof provides energy, dew ponds sport water lilies, and a sand workshop provides hours of fun for pupils and tourists from all over the country.
You live long enough, you get to experience new adventures: the toilets in the Vertigo Village are also ecological – sawdust flushes, or covers, that which we won’t discuss. Glass bottles hug each other on the mud walls of the studio complex, the light filters softly into the offices and sleeping pods. And the studio itself opens out onto rolling vistas straight out of a little French movie, possibly reminiscent of the Garden of Eden.
In the middle of this extraordinary serenity, dancers twirl to the seductive beat of Keith Jarrett’s The Köln Concert. Even if that hadn’t been the exact record that my late husband played for me the very first time I had coffee in his flat, I would still have been strangely moved to see youngsters in wheelchairs swaying with able-bodied dancers aged 20 to 70-plus, as the piano kling-kling-klinged in the background. Walking frames lean against the wall; dancers wave crutches in strangely intimate ways as they blend. Sometimes a tentative toe reaches out and touches a kneecap, sometimes it’s total entanglement as participants swing themselves onto wheelchairs and drape bodies over shoulders that don’t usually bear such loads. It’s intoxicating. And liberating.
In the workshop held this summer four dancers hailed from Holland. Affected with multiple sclerosis, they spun and swirled around the dance floor. For some dancers who cannot get out of their wheelchairs at all, the touch and the human contact from others is healthy and healing; combined with the music and the light and the companionship, it is magic indeed.
And the power is growing. Thanks also to the generosity of Mike Fliderbaum, one of the Vertigo Body-Contact Improvisation facilitators, a new ecological studio home is being built, complete with performance theater and a wheelchair-accessible stage.
The Power of Dance trains teachers to spread this integrated movement. The next course began in October with once-a-week classes on Sunday.
For more details contact Hai Cohen at or visit
The writer lectures at Beit Berl College and the Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya.