The lights were down in the house and the room was hushed as the audience waited in silence for the performance to begin. And then, a small fat dog trotted across the floor pillows being used as front-row seats, until it was quickly scooped up by a boy sitting, cross-legged, nearby.
It’s the kind of scene that always seems to take place at Vertigo, a modern dance troupe made up of the husband-and-wife team of Adi Sha’al and Noa Wertheim, plus two of Wertheim’s three sisters, and their families. They all live at the troupe’s Eco-Art Village, which is situated within Kibbutz Netiv Halamed Heh. Call it a post-modern take on the kibbutz, a collective coexistence of dancers and their families living ecologically and communally and finding a way to meld their art, belief systems and families into one generally cohesive whole. And now, they have brought a host of students into their midst.
They were all gathered Wednesday night, kids and all, for Batzir 15 — Harvest 15 — an evening to mark the culmination of the students’ recent work. There are Israeli students who either are completing a two-year program with Vertigo or are midway through it, and six American students who spent the last five months at Vertigo as part of a Jewish Agency Masa internship program.
All the students have been dancing together at the Eco-Art Village studio as well as at the company’s headquarters in Jerusalem’s Gerard Behar Theater. It’s been a tremendous learning experience.
“The best part about this is you don’t even know who’s who anymore,” Sha’al said, pointing at the mix of Israeli and American students onstage. “They’re all learning how to be artists and thinking about how to do this in real life.”
For the Israeli students, the Vertigo workshop generally comes after their army stints and before university education, while the Americans had just completed their university degrees or were in the middle of their studies
“The Israelis have had such a different life experience… they were doing the army and then they came back to dance,” said Suzannah Dessau, 20, a junior at Boston University, who has been dancing most of her life. “At Vertigo, they taught me to calm down and relax, to accept that things are as they should be and that it will all come.”
For Dessau, a New Jersey native who had only visited Israel once before, the opportunity to live and work in Israel has altered her trajectory. While she hasn’t yet completed college, she decided to accept admission to another two-year dance program, this one with the Kibbutz Contemporary Dance Company. She’ll be staying in Israel, living at Kibbutz Ga’aton in the western Galilee, where the dance troupe is based.
That’s a fairly common outcome for these Masa students, at least three of whom will be remaining in Israel for the time being. Some of the others are auditioning for other dance troupes in the US and Europe, on the notion that now is the time to try and dance professionally.
“What I see is them aspiring to stay,” said Sigal Roth, Vertigo’s coordinator for the program, while handing out mini ice cream bars during intermission. “They want to make it work, here in the troupe and then with auditions and finding work. They’re all really motivated.”
Vertigo’s Masa program is still quite new, as the spring semester saw the arrival the troupe’s second group of students from abroad, and it’ll be receiving 14 dancers in October.
“The Israelis bring seriousness to the program,” said Sha’al. “They know they want to be in the dance world. And then the Americans try to figure out how to stick around; they arrive as kids and leave here as adults.”