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
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."
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."
On May 18, 1919, Margot "Peggy" Hookham was born. She would grow up to become Dame Margot Fonteyn, England's first homegrown prima ballerina. She joined the Sadler's Wells School in 1934 and was performing principal roles with the precursor to The Royal Ballet the next year. Fonteyn was a company-defining figure, dancing Aurora for the re-opening of the Royal Opera House after World War II, creating numerous roles with Sir Frederick Ashton and forging a legendary partnership with Rudolf Nureyev.
The way we create and consume dance is changing every day. Now more than ever, the field demands that dancers not only be able to perform at the highest level, but also collaborate with choreographers to bring their artistic visions to life. Dancers who miss out on choreographic training may very well find themselves at a disadvantage as they try to launch their careers.
Memorial Day is notoriously one of Chicago's bloodiest weekends. Last year, 36 people were shot and seven died that weekend. In 2017 and 2016, the number of shootings was even higher.
When Garley "GiGi Tonyé" Briggs, a dance teacher and Chicago native, started noticing this pattern, she was preparing her second annual Memorial Day workshop for local youth.
The event's original aim was simple: "I wanted the youth of Chicago to have somewhere they could come and learn from different dancers and be off the streets on the South Side on this hot holiday," she says.
A recent trip I took to Nashville coincided with the NFL draft. As we drove into town, my Uber driver was a fount of information on the subject.
I learned that there are 32 NFL teams and that the draft takes place over seven rounds. That the team that did the poorest during the previous season gets first pick. That during an earlier event called the scouting combine, the teams assess college football players and figure out who they want.
There is also the veteran combine for "free agents"—players who have been released from their contracts or whose contracts have expired. They might be very good players, but their team needs younger members or ones with a certain skill set. All year round, experienced NFL scouts scan games across the country, checking out players and feeding that information back to the teams. Players' agents keep their eyes on opportunities for their clients which might be more rewarding.
While I sat in the traffic of 600,000 NFL fans I got thinking, is there something ballet could learn from football? Could a draft system improve young dancers' prospects and overall company caliber and contentment?
It's not often that a promising choreographer gets to stage work in a world-class theater, on a skillfully-curated program with professional dancers, and with the possibility of winning a substantial cash prize. But at the McCallum Theatre's Palm Desert Choreography Festival, that's been the status quo for over twenty years.
Since Shea New, the festival's artistic director, founded the festival in 1998, she's worked tirelessly with McCallum's director of education and festival producer, Kajsa Thuresson-Frary, and stage manager and festival production manager Joanna Fookes to build a festival that nurtures choreographers, highlights high quality work, powerfully engages the local community and cultivates an audience base for dance in the Coachella Valley. The trio is backed by a strong team of professionals at McCallum and the brilliant volunteers from the local and national level who serve as adjudicators.
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Despite what you might think, there's no reason for dancers to be afraid of bread.
"It's looked at as this evil food," says New York State–certified dietitian and former dancer Tiffany Mendell. But the truth is, unless you have celiac disease or a gluten intolerance, bread can be a healthy source of carbohydrates—our body's preferred fuel—plus fiber and vitamins.
The key is choosing your loaf wisely.
It can be hard to imagine life without—or just after—dance. Perhaps that's why we find it so fascinating to hear what our favorite dancers think they'd be doing if they weren't performing for a living.
We've been asking stars about the alternate career they'd like to try in our "Spotlight" Q&A series, and their answers—from the unexpected to the predictable—do not disappoint:
"New York City Ballet star appears in a Keanu Reeves action movie" is not a sentence we ever thought we'd write. But moviegoers seeing John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum will be treated to two scenes featuring soloist Unity Phelan dancing choreography by colleague Tiler Peck. The guns-blazing popcorn flick cast Phelan as a ballerina who also happens to be training to become an elite assassin. Opens in theaters May 17.
The Brooklyn-based choreographer Gillian Walsh is both obsessed with and deeply conflicted about dance. With her latest work, Fame Notions, May 17–19 at Performance Space New York, she seeks to understand what she calls the "fundamentally pessimistic or alienating pursuit" of being a dancer. Noting that the piece is "quiet and introverted," like much of her other work, she sees Fame Notions as one step in a larger project examining why dancers dance.
What does Mikhail Baryshnikov have to say to dancers starting their careers today? On Friday, he gave the keynote speech during the graduation ceremony for the inaugural class of the USC Glorya Kaufman School of Dance.
The heart of his message: Be generous.
Launching a dancewear line seems like a great way for professional dancers to flex new artistic muscles and make side money. Several direct-to-consumer brands founded by current or former professional dancers, like Elevé and Luckleo, currently compete with bigger retailers, like Capezio.
But turning your brand into the next Yumiko is more challenging than some budding designers may realize.
When I first came to dance criticism in the 1970s, the professional critics were predominantly much older than me. I didn't know them personally and, as the wide-eyed new kid on the block, I assumed most had little or no physical training in the art.
As slightly intimidated as I felt at the time—you try sitting around a conference room table with Dance Magazine heavy hitters like Tobi Tobias and David Vaughan—I smugly gave myself props for at least having had recent brushes with ballet, Graham, Duncan and Ailey and more substantial engagement with jazz and belly dance. Watching dancers onstage, I enjoyed memories of steps and moves I knew in my own bones. If the music was right, my shoulders would wriggle. I wasn't just coolly judging things from my neck up.