Vertigo Dance Company in 'MAKOM.'

Israeli dance company brings its timely ‘MAKOM’ to Boston



Israeli dance company brings its timely ‘MAKOM’ to Boston

Vertigo Dance Company in 'MAKOM.'

Since its inception in 1992, Vertigo, one of Israel’s leading modern dance troupes, has distinguished itself as a shining star of vibrancy, introspection and innovation. MAKOM (Hebrew for “place”), its evening-length work to be presented by Celebrity Series of Boston at the Boch Center Shubert Theatre April 5 and 6, brings the company’s renown explosive energy and uplifting spiritual message back to Boston for the first time since 2016.

While place can describe a real or imaginary location, it can also be an inner sanctum of safety and peace; an individual oasis of serenity, equilibrium and refuge.

Artistic Director Noa Wertheim and her sister, Rina Wertheim-Koren, co-choreographed MAKOM as an invitation for the audience to join a journey of belonging and self-discovery. “I relate the idea of place with ‘Where are you now in this particular moment? What are you thinking and feeling?’” she told the Journal over Zoom from her studio at Vertigo Eco-Art Village on Kibbutz Netiv HaLamed-Hey. “Place is anywhere and everywhere.”

She created the piece in 2022 as a way to explore the human perpetual pursuit of balance and unity in a world of polarities. “I want to bridge between right and left, between myself and my relationship with others. We can all be gentle and we can all be violent. It is our choice as human beings,” she added.

MAKOM features original music, a set design of wooden sticks that form platforms, ladders and bridges, and an impassioned storyline. Costumes of neutral hues and minimal lighting ensure the dancers are the centers of attention.

Wertheim and her husband and Vertigo partner, Adi Sha’al, began their dancing careers at 21, an age considered ripe for traditional dancers. After completing Israel’s mandatory military service, Wertheim became enamored of martial arts and its combination of classical, contact, and improvisation techniques. She took a summer dance course and was accepted by the Rubin Academy of Music and Dance in Jerusalem. While studying, she became a member of the Jerusalem modern dance group, Tamar, where she met Sha’al.

The couple’s first collaboration was a duet titled, “Vertigo,” after Sha’al’s firsthand experience as a pilot in the air force. Their professional and personal relationships blossomed and the two married and formed Vertigo.

They live and work at Vertigo Eco-Art Village, a community Wertheim and her three sisters formed in 2007 as a place where artists from diverse religious, cultural and ability backgrounds could unite to lead a life of artistry, collaboration and sustainability. Wertheim and Sha’al raised their three sons there.

For Wertheim, the eco-village, which overlooks the scenic Valley of Elah (where David once defeated Goliath), represents more than a holistic community-centered and environmentally-conscious approach to life and dance. It is also a place where she can practice her Judaism.

She was born in New York while her father was a student. When she was three-years-old, the family moved back to Israel, where she was raised in seaside Natanya, home to the Hasidic Sanzer dynasty and a large Chabad Lubavitch presence. The philosophies of Kabbalah (Jewish mysticism) and the unique moral and historical underpinnings of Judaism resonated with her.

The basic tenet of tikkun olam (Hebrew for repairing and healing the world) informs both her art and life. At the eco-village, the focus is on not just replacing what you consume, but leaving more than you found.

“My idea is to see how I can connect and bring this good vibration to the world,” Wertheim said.

She brings this same passion to her work as a dancer. “I found the body – this part of nature – as my mentor. In my art, I am researching my body and my soul to find this inner self, this place, this makom, within me,” she explained.

Vertigo has captivated audiences well beyond Israel since its début. The prestigious Sibiu Festival in Romania and Vertigo celebrated their 30-year partnership in June 2023. The festival recognized Wertheim’s remarkable contributions to, and profound impact on, the world of dance. She was awarded a star on its Avenue of Stars, where her name joins those of Mikhail Baryshnikov and other dance luminaries.

Although Wertheim prefers to talk about the internal essence of the human being and not about the current external situation in post-October 7 Israel, the flickering lights and muffled sounds of bombs heard over Zoom make it impossible not to ask whether these conditions have affected her life and work.

They have affected both.

Her 20-year-old son commands a tank inside Israel. When first deployed, she had no communication from him for two months. Sometimes her dancers come to rehearsal in their army uniforms between deployments. “We have a very difficult time. I continue to look only inside. This is the only thing I can do,” she said.

By MAKOM’s end, the sticks have become bridges and dancers who have danced separately hold hands and dance together. Wertheim hopes the audience will take this message home: no matter what, we must – and we will – dance together.

“If we focus on separation, we will be separated. If we talk about uniting, dialoguing, listening and understanding each other, we will be unified,” Wertheim said. “This is my wish.” Θ

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