Danc­ing with­out dizzi­ness

The Jerusalem Post Magazine - - OBSERVATIONS - PAMELA PELED For more de­tails con­tact Hai Cohen at Hai@ver­tigo.org.il or visit ver­tigo.org.il The writer lec­tures at Beit Berl Col­lege and the In­ter­dis­ci­pli­nary Cen­ter Her­zliya. peled­pam@gmail.com

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-klingk­linged 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 on­cea-week classes on Sun­day.

We are the bridge for mir­a­cles to hap­pen, as we teach how to con­tact oth­ers through dance, no mat­ter what abil­i­ties or dis­abil­i­ties you may have – Tali of Ver­tigo Dance Com­pany

(Rouso Me­nachem)

CON­TACT IM­PRO­VI­SA­TION in­struc­tor Mike Flid­er­baum prac­tic­ing the Power of Bal­ance with dance part­ner Anat.

(Natasha Shakhnes Pho­tog­ra­pher)

CHAI AND Tali, founders and head teach­ers of Ver­tigo con­tact im­pro­vi­sa­tion pro­grams and Power of Bal­ance.

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