The American Dance Festival (ADF) opened its 81st season at 8 p.m. on Thursday, June 12th, at the Durham Performing Arts Center with the first of two performances by Vertigo Dance Company. Based in Israel’s Elah Valley, the company also appeared at ADF in 2012.
Israeli dancers Noa Wertheim and Adi Sha’al founded Vertigo Dance Company in 1992, taking the name from a duet they had created. Thursday night’s evening-length performance, Vertigo 20, with choreography by Wertheim, contains elements of that early duet, as well as bits and pieces from other works in the company’s repertoire. (The final DPAC performance of Vertigo 20 will start at 8 p.m. Friday, June 13th.)
Music wafts into the audience moments before the curtain rises to reveal a set of three walls with randomly attached “shelves” that serve as seats and/or platforms for the dancers at various times throughout the work. A spotlight illuminates two dancers on two of the shelves upstage right, their long hair sprayed or gelled so that it sticks straight up above their heads, as though they are in freefall with their hair forced upward by the rush of air. Holding hands, they begin to walk downstage, moving through a slow duet to music that brought to mind the oom-pa-pa, oom-pa-pa of a calliope. Two white balloons are suspended in the shadows upstage left but later removed. Other dancers perch on the shelves; still more enter the space through a door hidden in the upstage left wall.
Dancers come and go throughout the piece — a constant flow of bodies adding in and stepping out (sometimes figuratively, sometimes actually leaving the stage). The movement is layered, echoing: a man standing on a shelf stage right mimics the arm movements of a trio of women doing a hip-swiveling sequence downstage left.
Abruptly, the music changes — to 4/4 this time, fast and percussive. The lights become brighter, harsher; the movement more confrontational. A duet for two male dancers is the centerpiece for the change. Later, the music becomes sparer, then returns to a faster tempo, hinting at klezmer music. Ran Bagno’s music has many moods. It envelops the dancers, providing both the impetus for their movement as well as a place for them to settle.
Vertigo 20 seems to tell a story of the push/pull of longing for but pushing away connection, whether to an individual, with a group, or to oneself. Whether physically in contact or dancing side by side or across the stage from one another, the Vertigo dancers are connected, tethered by their humanness, by their energy, their physicality, their inhabiting of the space in and around each other. Whether touching or not, it is as if they are. They touch us, too.
Certain images remain with me: A couple, the woman clinging desperately to and hanging from the waist of the man as he attempts to walk. A couple, each alternately pulling the other close and then releasing the other in a hypnotic, rhythmical visual call and response. A man and woman, limp as puppets; the female manipulated by a group of women, the man directed by a group of men. Each is pushed, swung, slung through space, made to kiss each other, made to smile by someone’s fingers tugging up the corners of their mouths. All of the dancers lined up across the back of the stage, holding hands, calling up the image of a string of paper dolls. White balloons filling the stage at the end, the dancers stepping and swirling and swooping among them, then turning to form a circle, facing each other, closer and closer, finally draping their arms across each other’s shoulders.
The Vertigo dancers are achingly beautiful, not so much because of their physical attributes and technical prowess — although these are certainly obvious — but because of their rawness and honesty and palpable inner fire. I had trouble taking my eyes off of any of them, which presented a problem when they were all over the stage doing different things. This is why I luxuriated in the unison sections — watching their powerful, unrestrained, articulate bodies, filling the stage and moving as one, was breathtaking. Noa Wertheim’s choreography gives them a rich vocabulary — impossibly wide, deep pliés in second position; expansive fourth positions anchoring backward-tilting torsos; little disco-ish wrist circles at the hip — with which to express motifs both numinous and visceral.
As strong as the choreography and dancing are, Vertigo 20 owes much of its power to the design elements. Rakefet Levy (who also designed the set) created the dancers’ captivating long-sleeved, high-necked tops (some with a nod to the Victorian era, others more Elizabethan), which were worn over slightly puffy/scrunchy shorts (or, in a couple of cases, blousy knee pants). The colors were blacks and greys and browns, occasionally beiges or whites, but decidedly neutral. The dancers’ covered upper bodies and bare legs spoke of restraint and freedom, remoteness and intimacy, holding close and letting go. Dani Fishof’s lighting design established and maintained an introspective mood, painting the set walls in an array of muted colors. Shadows prevailed, the dancers fierce spots of energy among them.
Vertigo Dance Company gave the ADF opening night audience the kind of dancing they could sink their teeth — and their hearts — into. If Vertigo 20 is any indication of things to come, ADF audiences are in for a feast this summer. Make sure you get a seat at the table.
SECOND OPINION: June 13th Durham, NC Five Points Star review by Kate Dobbs Ariail: http://thefivepointsstar.com/2014/06/13/adf-vertigo-dance-company/ and June 9th preview by Kate Dobbs Ariail: http://thefivepointsstar.com/2014/06/09/dancing-durham-adf-opens-and-local-dancers-provide-even-more-action/; June 13th Durham, NC Herald-Sun preview by Susan Broili: http://www.heraldsun.com/news/localnews/x2015119476/A-tribute-to-a-warrior-ancestor, June 12th preview by Susan Broili: http://www.heraldsun.com/news/localnews/x2105769276/Vertigo-kicks-off-81st-ADF-today, June 9th editorial http://www.heraldsun.com/opinion/x2105768003/Welcome-ADF, and June 7th preview by Susan Broili: http://www.heraldsun.com/news/localnews/x101017307/Whats-new-at-ADF-A-lot (Note: You must register to read these articles); June 11th Durham, NC Indy Week preview by Byron Woods: http://www.indyweek.com/indyweek/american-dance-festival-returns-with-new-vigor/Content?oid=4182599 and http://www.indyweek.com/indyweek/american-dance-festival-2014-schedule/Content?oid=4183162; and June 7th Raleigh, NC News & Observer preview by Roy C. Dicks: http://www.newsobserver.com/2014/06/07/3916277/american-dance-festival-kicks.html.
AMERICAN DANCE FESTIVAL:
2014 SEASON BROCHURE: http://www.americandancefestival.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/02/2014-brochure.pdf.
PRESENTER: http://www.americandancefestival.org, https://www.facebook.com/AmerDanceFest, and http://twitter.com/AmerDanceFest.
ADF BLOG: http://www.americandancefestival.org/projects/blog/.
VENUES: See above.
COMPLETE TICKET BROCHURE: http://www.americandancefestival.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/05/order-forms2.pdf.
ADF@DPAC Events: 919-680-ARTS (2787) or http://www.dpacnc.com/events.
ADF@DUKE Events: 919-684-4444 or https://tickets.duke.edu/Online/default.asp.
TICKET DISCOUNTS: Click http://americandancefestival.org/performance/general-information/.
NOTE: Telephone 919-684-6402 to reserve a large-print program for each event and/or request an assistive-listening device.
Viki Atkinson danced professionally in musical theater for a number of years and later shifted her focus to choreographing for theater. Locally, she danced in the North Carolina Theatre productions of Cabaret, My Fair Lady, Man of La Mancha, Oklahoma!, and West Side Story. Additional performance credits include Kathy in Company, Peggy in Godspell, and the title role in Gypsy. Later, Atkinson lent her dance expertise to Spectator Magazine, serving as chief dance critic from 1987 to 1999. She also holds a degree in Dance Education from UNC-Greensboro; and she has taught extensively in a variety of settings, including Meredith College, Virginia Commonwealth University, Appomattox Regional Governor’s School (Petersburg, VA), and the School of Richmond Ballet. She was also on the faculty of the Raleigh School of Ballet for 10 years and directed the dance program at Martin Middle School for four years. Viki Atkinson recently returned to Raleigh after living in Richmond for six years, and is thrilled to be back in North Carolina! To read more of Viki Atkinson’s Triangle Review reviews, click here. To read more of her CVNC reviews, click here.