Four sisters, four husbands and a handful of children between them, and that is the core of Vertigo, one of Israel’s three main contemporary dance companies.
It’s a dance company with a history of 18 years, tells business director and co-founder, Adi Sha’al, who started Vertigo with his wife and partner, Noa Wertheim (one of the four sisters), back when they were students in Jerusalem. And the holy, capital city has remained the heart of the company, with studios and stage at the Gerard Behar Center, in the middle of downtown Jerusalem. “We’re the Batsheva of Jerusalem,” says Adi, referring to Israel’s largest modern dance troupe.
But Adi and Noa – and sisters Rena and Merav and their families, as well as a handful of Vertigo dancers – no longer live in Jerusalem or the other cities and villages that they called home for the last decade or so. They now all live on Kibbutz Netiv Halamed Hei, in the heart of the Haela Valley of the Yoav Yehuda region, where they’ve created the Vertigo Eco-Art Village, a working experiment in ecological and artistic living.
In between performances in Israel and abroad, working with school age children, adults with physical disabilities and budding dancers, they have turned a defunct chicken coop into an ecological arts center, complete with dance studio, communal kitchen, guestrooms, outdoor showers and a water system that relies primarily on recycled rain and gray water. And, it’s all housed in a charmingly restored structure that gathers water from the roof, and includes walls made of mud bricks.
Yet this experiment in ecological living is about more than recycled water, green houses and ‘Adamahee’, the play on words that is their mud brick venture, meaning ‘She is the earth.’ It is about exploring the connection between ecology and art. Besides their own dance rehearsals, they host classes and workshops of all kinds, from vegetarian cooking and mud brick making to green building (taught by Merav’s husband, Danny) and vortex healing (handled by Merav).
Their chairman of the board was concerned when he heard about the kibbutz plan, says Adi. “He said, ‘You’ve gone shanti!’” laughs Adi, using the Israeli term for a certain brand of 21st century hippy living. “But we said, ‘We’re still a dance company.’” And after an initial pilot year and an additional two and a half years, it’s clear they are still Vertigo, albeit with a twist. Adi calls it Vertigo in Jerusalem and Vertigo in the Village.
Just to be clear, Vertigo, the dance company, is larger than the Wertheim sisters and their families. There are 15 full-time dancers, which is about the double the size of their initially fledgling company. At the time, seven was as large as they could get, and still fit into their communal car, jokes Adi. But they grew, they taught other dancers, and their current size allows them to split up at any given time, dedicating themselves to both their community dance classes and performances.
What’s next for Vertigo? They’ve got three pieces to perform at the upcoming Israel Festival, including “Birds of the Phoenix,” which explores environmental issues; “White Noise,” a look at capitalism and commercialism, and “Mana.” There’s the Adamahee conference at the Eco-Art Center on April 28-29, open to the public about using alternative methods of building. And Shavuot in May will bring an all-night tikkun for learning, as well as workshops on dance, mud building and who knows what else.
It’s, well, dizzying, an appropriate concept for a dance company named about the sense of losing control. In fact, the name Vertigo came from Adi’s years in the IDF air force, and the sense that he and Noa had of being in a relationship and losing control. Like Vertigo. Like life. Now they’re ready to sit back and watch their olive trees grow.