January 12–14, 2023
Vertigo Dance Company radiates a deeply rooted sense of community in the US premiere of PARDES. The eight dancers spend most of the hour-long work moving together in lockstep, or in small orbiting groups. When dancers break apart from the cluster, others rush to join them, or assist when another falters. The company seems as close as a family, imparting a sense of belonging and empathy. It’s probably no accident, as the troupe’s director and choreographer, Noa Wertheim, works and lives in Israel’s Vertigo Eco Art Village, which “fosters the arts in an ecologically and socially responsible manner.”
Wearing uniform, black tunics, the performers enter the stage one by one and sit on benches lining the red-walled perimeter. Music by Itamar Doari begins, a dreamlike melody floating over drums that will range from sparse to unrelenting. This provides an apt analogy in describing long passages of the dancing—the legs tapping out a steady bass line for the arms’ lyricism and restless melodies. A hypnotic side-to-side step repeats, augmented by a foot slapping an ankle; the arms whip through shapes and semaphores, unboxing the heart or framing the head, or rest at a stately low angle.
The movement, quiet at first, accelerates as the torso twists in more extreme spirals. Formations shift from a diamond to a matrix to a perpendicular column, and finally snap into a horizontal line as the dancers move as one, swaying like a pendulum. They often work from a semi-squat, torso erect or—in even lower frog-like pliés—with the chest pulled concave or thrown into a high arch. In the chorus sections, there’s no outright emoting; communication happens through proximity and syncing. We catch snippets of folk and square dance—as when the dancers clasp hands briefly as two lines pass one another—more reminders of this community (located at the Kibbutz Netiv Halamed-Heh) that relates through the language of dance.
Two women unfasten their black bibs, revealing beige underclothes (in time, we’ll see that each of the cast’s is different, like their skin). They hover closely but warily; one pats the aura around the second’s face. They clasp hands and extend their legs behind, pulling in tension, and swish their hips, testing the limits and strength of their brief interaction. A man supports another on his back, allowing the rider to pedal his legs toddler-like, freely. A bolder parlance infiltrates—barrel leaps, dervish spins, fish rolls to the floor—before they resume their lateral vamping in a neat line.
The lighting (Dani Fishof) transforms from ambient, to a wide circle spot, to kaleidoscopic patterns on the walls. Often, the shadow silhouettes become ghost partners. A woman reels, delirious, brushing one foot softly, back and forth, hovering a leg in stasis. Two others move to aid her, or at least break her reverie, but she slips under one man’s clasping arms until succumbing to a cruciform lift by the group. They once again fall into line, pulsing and vamping, until each dancer takes a turn bowing while still moving laterally as the light fades to dark, ending our brief glimpse into this fascinating group.