Vertigo Dance Company. Photo by Rune Abro

This Israeli Company Rehearses in An Eco Village—And Brings Its Vision of Sustainability to the U.S.

Imagine dancing in a large studio, with windows on two sides, mountains in the distance and flowers right up close. You take a shower outdoors with "grey water" that's been collected from the roof and recycled into the plants. You use compost toilets to avoid using water in the desert and you might even stay overnight in a "mud room."

This is Vertigo Dance Company's Eco-Art Village in the Elah Valley (where, in biblical times, David fought Goliath). It is not only a beautiful spot on earth but also a model of ecologically sustainable living and working. And a place where the company of fierce yet gentle dancers, create new work in the partly improvised approach guided by Wertheim.


This month, Vertigo's One. One & One, a compelling 25th-anniversary production choreographed by artistic director Noa Wertheim, comes to the Baryshnikov Arts Center, DANCECleveland and the Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center at the University of Maryland, College Park.

I recently spoke with Wertheim about her work, and how it's been shaped by the Eco-Art Village she runs with her extended family.

The New Work Looks at Oneness and Separation

"This is very intimate, about feelings. To put feeling into movement is an interesting task. In Hebrew, the title One. One & One, describes oneness but also a separation between people. We are always defining ourselves. It seems like more and more the separation is also happening inside of ourselves. In one duet with two women, they are mirroring each other. It's nice when people are similar, to show that our self can be understood through each other."

How The Village Affects The Dance

"I love nature and am influenced by nature. The Eco-Art Village is trying to behave ecologically—saving water in the desert, collecting it from the roof in big buckets. We have a compost center for the kitchen and toilet, and after a few months, we get plenty of black earth, rich earth, from it. I felt that material, earth at its most condensed, should be in the piece."

Noa Wertheim and her husband Adi Shaal

Elad Debi

Why She Uses Dirt Onstage

"Two years ago, I got an image of a man walking with a bucket in a line, delineating, putting limits, making the separating. We are not endless. Maybe our soul is endless but the body is not. We are moving beyond the edges even though we are stuck inside of it.

The first time I used earth onstage, 14 years ago, it was outdoors and I got really connected to ecology. I understood how we are behaving to the planet, raping our own land, the poison we put in. Then we started with the Eco-Art Village. It's all connected. The choreography I'm creating always has conflict or dilemma. Even in nature, the lion eats the sheep or deer. One is taking from another in order to survive. Human beings always have strong feelings, willpower, conflicts."

The Extended Family Runs The Village

"My mom passed away 17 years ago. We are four sisters, four husbands and babies—altogether a tribe of 13. After one year, Adi, my husband and the father our three children, said, "When you four sisters are together, something is complete." Then we started thinking about it. We came to this Kibbutz. Every night for a few years, like pioneers in the beginning of the country, we sat, asking what will be the essence of the place. We started putting these ideas into action, like turning the chicken coop into a dance studio. Now it's growing. This year we are building a third studio."

A dancer lunges down with her face almost next to a stage covered in dirt, her fingers splayed as her arms reach behind her

Rune Abro

How She Shapes Her Ensemble

"The dancers train in contact improvisation and release technique, with ballet once or twice a week. We do a little bit of centering, using the energy of martial arts. Our studio in Jerusalem is the school for studying the Vertigo language. It's very versatile, what we give them. It takes some time for the dancers to go deep.

"You have to fall in love with your dancers. I mostly have Israeli dancers, but I like sometimes two or three from different countries. Israelis understand their roots, but it's beautiful to have more flavors. Sometime Europeans are more patient. Of our nine dancers, one is from Hungary, one from Portugal and one from France."

Her Feelings On Israel

"I don't bring the music that came to Israel 50 years ago. The togetherness of a nation can be joyful, but it can be also stepping on the other. Somebody is celebrating and somebody else is being stepped on. It's an endless story."

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Courtesy Harlequin

What Does It Take to Make a Safe Outdoor Stage for Dance?

Warmer weather is just around the corner, and with it comes a light at the end of a hibernation tunnel for many dance organizations: a chance to perform again. While social distancing and mask-wearing remain essential to gathering safely, the great outdoors has become an often-preferred performance venue.

But, of course, nature likes to throw its curveballs. What does it take to successfully pull off an alfresco show?

Marisa Grywalski and Alejandro Diaz in Dwight Rhodens "Ave Maria," part of PBT's Open Air Series last fall.

Kelly Perkovich, Courtesy Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre

Keeping dancers safe outside requires the same intentional flooring as you have in the studio—but it also needs to be hearty enough to withstand the weather. With so many factors to consider, two ballet companies consulted with Harlequin Floors to find the perfect floor for their unique circumstances.

Last fall, Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre invested in a mobile stage that allowed the dancers to perform live for socially distanced audiences. "But we didn't have an outdoor resilient floor, so we quickly realized that if we had any rain, we were going to be in big trouble—it would have rotted," says artistic director Susan Jaffe.

The company purchased the lightweight, waterproof Harlequin's AeroDeck® sprung floor panels and the heavy-duty Harlequin Cascade™ vinyl, which is manufactured with BioCote® Antimicrobial Protection to help with the prevention of bacteria and mold. After an indoor test run while filming Nutcracker ("It felt exactly like our regular floor," says Jaffe), the company will debut the new setup this May in Pittsburgh's Schenley Park during a two-week series of performances shared with other local arts organizations.

Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre's Open Air Series last fall. The company plans to roll out their new Harlequin AeroDeck® sprung floor panels and Harlequin Cascade™ vinyl floor for more outdoor performances this spring.

Harris Ferris, Courtesy Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre

In addition to the possibility of rain, a range of temperatures also has to be taken into account. When the State Ballet of Rhode Island received a grant from the state to upgrade its 15-year-old stage, executive director Ana Fox chose the Harlequin Cascade vinyl floor in the lighter gray color "so that it would be cooler if it's reflecting sunlight during daytime performances," she says.

However, for the civic ballet company's first performance on its new 24-by-48–foot stage on November 22, heat was less of a concern than the Northeastern cold. Fortunately, Fox says the surface never got icy or too stiff. "It felt warm to the feel," she says. "You could see the dancers didn't hesitate to run or step into arabesque." (The Harlequin Cascade floor is known for providing a good grip.)

"To have a safe floor for dancers not to worry about shin splints or something of that nature, that's everything," she says. "The dancers have to feel secure."

State Ballet of Rhode Island first rolled out their new Harlequin Cascade™ flooring for an outdoor performance last November.

Courtesy of Harlequin

Of course, the elements need to be considered even when dancers aren't actively performing. Although Harlequin's AeroDeck is waterproof, both PBT and SBRI have tarps to cover their stages to keep any water out. SBRI also does damp mopping before performances to get pollen off the surface. Additionally, the company is building a shed to safely store the floor long-term when it's not in use. "Of course, it's heavy, but laying down the floor and putting it away was not an issue at all," says Fox, adding that both were easy to accomplish with a crew of four people.

Since the Harlequin Cascade surface is versatile enough to support a wide range of dance styles—and even opera and theater sets—both PBT and SBRI are partnering with other local arts organizations to put their outdoor stages to use as much as possible. Because audiences are hungry for art right now.

"In September, I made our outdoor performance shorter so we wouldn't have to worry about intermission or bathrooms, but when it was over, they just sat there," says Jaffe, with a laugh. "People were so grateful and so happy to see us perform. We just got an overwhelming response of love and gratitude."

Marisa Grywalski and Alejandro Diaz in Susan Jaffes "Carmina Terra," part of PBT's Open Air Series last fall.

Kelly Perkovich, courtesy Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre

February 2021